Another Adventure

I have always been a traveller, a wanderer, if only by reading. But I’ve had many real life travels, too, and today I’m heading off to another adventure. Luckily, there’s the Kindle now so I don’t have to pack actual books, which I love but I love having clothing options more. Our destination today is Seattle for a week.

We’ve rented an Airbnb condo five minutes from where my son and grandkids and super DiL live. Since our boys (and grandchildren) live quite a distance, we don’t often get to do typical grandparent activities like watching a soccer or T-ball game. This week we get to do both. I think this is my fifth or sixth time in Seattle.

When I was young and fearless, I hitchhiked to New York City, to Key West and Colorado. Those were magical trips. My eyes were opened wide to a very big world outside of my little town of Taylor, Michigan. It’s impossible to capture those moments again because I’m older now. I’ve tried anyway. New York City has changed since 1972 and Key West is far different than the tourist-free paradise it was in 1974. The Rocky Mountains are probably the same, which is weirdly comforting.

I doubt I’d hop on the back of the motorcycle of a and take a winding road high up the mountain side, in fact I’m certain I would not. That guy on the motorcycle cured me of hitchhiking forever later that night. Either him or the drunk who crashed his truck on the freeway in the rain with me and my friend in it. It’s fun to be young and carefree, but bad shit happens and travel is safer and more comfortable with a plane ticket and my trusty Kindle.

I’ll take some photos and store some memories of family and always wonderful Seattle. I’ll take writing break and refill the creative well. Most important, I’ll get my granny time in and see you next week.

Long Distance Love

My son and his family are visiting from Seattle. It’s been so lovely to have them here with me, but I miss them fierce when they’re gone. I live about an hour from where I grew up. One of my brothers still lives in Taylor, our hometown, and the other lives in a neighboring town. My mom lives close to them. None of us strayed far from home.

My dad’s an adventurer. He traveled all the time for his job as a construction electrician. He’s seen the country and loves the sun. He’s retired now and lives in Florida. He and mom are still married. I admit it’s strange, but it works for them. They visit back and forth, but as they get older, it has become more difficult for Dad to drive up here for the summer or for Mom to fly down there in winter.

She was just there, as my dad has had a health scare, and needed surgery. She hated every minute of it but she’s his wife and she wanted to take care of him. They love each other, they really do. They just prefer different climates. I want to move to Florida full time as soon as Al retires, so I understand how Dad feels. My only thing is I am not going to move there without my husband. It comes down to this: I love him more than I hate the cold.

This visit my son told me that grad school was just an excuse to go to California. He got the advanced degree, married in Malibu and moved to Seattle for work. There, they started their family and formed a tight bond with several other couples who are married with kids. I see my grandchildren less than I’d like. The plan is to move to Florida and spend extended periods of time visiting Seattle and Traverse City.

And they’re good about visiting us. Especially in Florida. We’re in St Pete, only two hours from Disney World. Florida, for many of us, is “God’s Waiting Room” but for our grandchildren, Disney World is a little bit of heaven, too.

Dad Didn’t Die

A few weeks ago, my father was seriously ill and also 1,243 miles away. While flying to him, I thought back to our conversation mere weeks ago, when I was in Florida for the winter and we saw each other at least once a week, just the two of us sitting in chairs at my sunroom table where we enjoyed the majestic palms stretching down the boulevard. On these visits, Dad became softer with me, more open emotionally, and I felt I could talk to him about anything.

I asked him about my grandmother, his mother, who had died in Florida when I was a teenager. I remember my father in 1971, dressed for his flight down south. In his sharply creased trousers and his caramel colored sweater with the black strip over a crisp white shirt, he looked as handsome as a movie star. His normal handsome was James Dean but this handsome was toned down, more serious and refined, as befitted the occasion. I asked him to take me with him and he said it wasn’t possible.

I loved my grandmother so much, and had missed her since she’d made the permanent move south. I’d been down to see her a few times, she’d been north a few times, too, always with crates of oranges and grapefruit, but this was different. This might be the last time. But when Dad said no, he meant it. I mourned for her from afar, the only person who’d ever shown me physical affection when I was a child. She hugged me tight. She held me in her arms. She kissed me and told me she loved me. She put her hand in mine and held tight. Nobody else in our family did those things. Not my parents or my maternal grandparents. For a long time, I thought that meant Grandma Hines was the only person who really loved me. And she was dying. Or maybe already dead.

“I never made it in time,” my dad confessed almost fifty years later as we sat in the same Florida sun where many generations of his mother’s family had been born and raised. “She was dead when I got there.” We sat in silence, remembering the robust six-foot tall woman with the warm heart and arms that wrapped around you like a love package. I noted the guilt in my father’s voice as he recalled his inability to see his mother one last time. He’d been unreachable for awhile, working out of town or maybe just unavailable. We weren’t a real family then. Neither Dad nor I lived with my brothers and mom. Mom had a habit of kicking us both out with regularity, but the shadow of death had brought the whole family together for a little while.

Now I was flying to see my father under similar conditions. Would I make it in time? It had been such a difficult decision to go back to Florida. I’d only been home from my extended winter stay for two weeks. I’d sorely missed my husband those winter months. I didn’t want to leave him again so soon, but remembering the regret my dad had held on to all these years made me determined to see him, maybe for the last time.

My brother came down too. I got to St Pete just a bit before him, rented a car at the tiny airport, and dumped my bags in the condo. Then I went to the hospital. My dad was not my dad. He was in intensive care, as his vitals were not good, he looked so pale, hooked up to many machines that jabbed him with needles up and down his arms. His eyes were closed. I told the nurse I’d just sit with him. I’d made the right decision to come; he wasn’t dead yet, but he looked terrifyingly near it.

My hand reached for the one part of his arm that wasn’t taped to his skin with an IV. His eyes fluttered open. When he recognized me, his whole face smiled. We chatted in our familiar way. The doctor came and listed the possible grim outcomes. It could be this or that or the other or a combination. But they had a plan and were giving medication and running tests. I was warily optimistic. My brother joined us and soon I left so Dad and Bob could have some one on one time.

And thus we went on, my brother and I making sure each day one of us went to the hospital early and the other later. We’d then debrief each other via phone or text. My brother was staying at my dad’s condo, but he came to mine one day and we sat and talked about a lot of difficult things, including our mother, politics and religion.

Since Trump has been elected, I’ve wanted to know what his supporters think of him now. But I didn’t want to risk the friendships that had survived the election, so I had stayed silent. Bob said “I hate his ego but I love the economy. Nearly everybody has a job. The market’s doing great and thank God we aren’t granting asylum to busloads of thugs who not only get medical insurance but Social Security! Did you know Mexico supplies bus transport and pays their fare to our border?”

I didn’t and still find it difficult to believe that last one. I need Snopes for that. But, aside from saying having a job was not the same as earning a living wage, I was able to agree in theory with the rest of it. Our views on both politics and religion differ wildly but somehow that day we found common ground.

I’m not one to try to convince another they should see things (like the inexplicable workings of the universe or our current president) as I do. But my brother, a religious scholar of the evangelical sort, who studies both Hebrew and Greek, the better to translate God’s Word, has a more open line to the Holy Spirit than me. I told him our octogenarian father had heartbreakingly confided, during one of our weekly winter talks, that he was afraid of dying. I asked Bob if he knew of a way to help ease our dad’s mind on that. If Dad was afraid when he was healthy, what must he be suffering now? My brother agreed to have a chat with Dad about Jesus.

Every day we watched our dad improve bit by bit. The first bite of food. The first successful procedure. The final diagnosis, which was not as bad as we thought. He needed to heal from an infection and, in due time, have a gall bladder operation.

Whoosh, the relief.

Another blessing, my brother had felt the spirit come upon him and had talked to Dad about life after death. Dad, who moved from atheist to agnostic as he aged, heard the good news that heaven was real and awaited him whenever his sojourn on this planet ended.

The next day during my hospital visit, I said, “So Dad, Bobby tells me he talked to you about God and heaven.” Dad, still in a world of hurt and under the influence of heavy pain killers, said “Yes, and it was good news, but, Cindy, what about the frog?”

“Frog?” He had me stumped, so tried to explain further. “You know, the one that you say we all came from.” Ah, I got it now. Dad meant the primordial soup that created single cell organisms from which, over millennia, humanity evolved. My brother and I had not discussed the frog. Bob had agreed with me when I said I didn’t think religion and science had to be irreconcilable. “Absolutely,” he’d said, “they complement each other.” We talked about black holes and dark matter and the Great Attractor, all of which to me seem cohorts of a mysterious, maybe even benevolent, universe. But we didn’t talk about the frog. I knew my brother takes the Bible quite literally and that there was a line at which we could meet and where that line could not be crossed.

I had explained evolution to Dad during one winter visit. Neither of my parents finished high school, as they were very busy being teenage parents, so biology and the origin of the species is not something on their everyday minds. Dad found all of what I’d said interesting but pretty darn unbelievable. He didn’t like thinking he was descended from mud, but neither did he absolutely believe the Bible, which he had read some years ago, perhaps in an attempt to lift the burden of disbelief. “Some of those guys were nuts,” is the way Dad put it.

“Dad,” I said, “I know Bobby thinks the earth and all its creatures were created in a single week. But Einstein’s time-motion theory of relativity proved that everything that has ever happened or will happen in the future is also happening now, all at once.” His eyes wandered to the clock on the wall. I tried to simplify the explanation. “Time, as we think of it, is a human construct that helps us make sense of our lives in the world now. But time, when considered with motion over the broad range of the known universe, really is happening all at once. God’s ‘week’ could have been billions of years. God could have dabbled with his creations for an eternity.”

Dad closed his eyes for a minute. Science is a wearying subject for many people, particularly those flying high on opioids. When he opened his eyes again, he said, “But Cindy, you have to admit, most of us don’t look a damn thing like frogs.” Dad was back. And he wouldn’t be dying any day soon. He had too much thinking to do, sorting out the universe, frogs, and his own sprogs.





Make Love Happen: Post-Romantic Stress Disorder

unnamedMy writing critique partners looked skeptical when I talked about falling in love as being a kind of hijacking of common sense by our own bodies and the hormones they produce. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t read Post-Romantic Stress Disorder and other books and articles with information, fact-based, provable stuff. fMRI brain scans have revealed to science the hormones that produce the feeling of being in love.  Scientists, psychologists and researchers have been tracking those effects for a while now. But I wrote all about it here.

And then I promised to write about what to do when those hormones calm down and the “in love” feeling goes away and you think you don’t love your partner anymore. Not true! And the same brain that produced those hormones is capable of helping couples stay together to create stable, mature love. We just have to make new pathways, cultivate new habits, and retrain ourselves from certain prevailing myths about what love is and what it is not.

First, recognize the signs of trouble when they start. Next, do something to subvert the process. Here’s the breakdown. The first sign is criticism. Do you criticize your mate or does your mate criticize you or do you both pick on each other? Stop it! Learn how to disagree constructively instead of destructively. Let go of nastiness and instead try for empathy and compromise. Don’t discuss when angry or tired. Wait until you are well-rested and ready to play nice. Then calmly say your piece with “I” statements so feelings don’t devolve into contempt and your partner doesn’t feel defensive and withdraw from communication.

Those bolded words are the steps in the process of walking away from intimacy. There’s a final warning sign, but by the time dissmell happens, it’s too late. Your relationship is doomed. Dissmell is a severe reaction, a disgust of your partners’ body odor. It could be a mouth like an ashtray, sweat that stinks, feet that make you faint when socks are removed, whatever the odor, if it offends you to the point of criticism, it needs to be addressed. Or you need to hire a lawyer. Because disgust can’t easily be turned around.

Hell, none of this is easy. But dissmell and disgust really are the death knell to a relationship. I should know, because it happened to me. I thought my partner (not my husband, but a former partner) was right and there was just something wrong with me that only he could see. I blamed myself. That’s a shame response and it happens when a relationship is out of sync because of childhood trauma. It’s all so buried and unconscious and insidious.

I’m well out of that relationship and have since done loads of work on my self-esteeem, which really for a relationship with anyone else to work, you have to be right with your own self first. You have to love yourself and out that shame that may be holding you back from true intimacy. Because intimacy is more than sex and cuddles. It has to do with trusting your partner with anything, including the things that have shamed and wounded you. Sharing these things builds intimacy, which puts the marriage back on the right track.

Here are a couple of other intimacy builders: make time for each other. My husband recently started taking off one day a week to spend just with me. Try new things. Be adventurous in ways that appeal to both of you. Listen, we are both 59 and there are still so many things we want to do. But we came up with something really wild, something so out of my comfort zone, but something I really want to do. We’re going to take lessons together. I can’t say what kind because my friends who don’t like guns will shoot me (hint).

Be spontaneous. Friday night a note popped up in my mail about a concert for one of my favorite bands. Problem was it happened to be the next night. And my husband had to work the morning after. And we were sure tickets would be sold out. And we already had a perfectly good plan to go out to dinner. But I thought about that spontaneous thing: getting excited about new and different things actually releases some of those same “in love” chemicals our souls crave. So we went for it. And we had a great time.

I’m not going to tell you the obvious things like to be kind and considerate because you know that already. It’s really easy to hurt the one you love because they are always there, right? But what if you develop some interests apart from each other? Everybody needs alone time and everybody needs something just for them. So build that into the relationship and suddenly your partner seems much more intriguing. Like someone you could really fall for all over again.

Nature’s Way

photo-12Yesterday, Al and I had a quiet adventure. We went into the world and explored our surroundings. We have been caught up in too much work, too little time together, and a couple of other things pulling at the fabric of who we are together. Just because we’ve been married for 29 years doesn’t mean we don’t have to work on our relationship. I think sometimes you need to do that even more the longer you are together. Sometimes you take each other for granted. Sometimes you need to fall in love all over again.

One of the things we did when we were dating and then continued all through our married lives was visit a cider mill every fall. It’s a little thing, right? But if you start dropping the little things, they can turn into a big deal. I mentioned to Al that we had not done our annual cider mill visit in a few years. So what did this guy do? He not only took Friday off to support me at my beloved cousin’s memorial, but he also took Saturday off and devoted the day to us. Two days of no work for both of us is highly unusual. I’m more busy than ever and so is he, but that’s just present circumstances. We can choose to change how we operate. We can choose to slow down.

We recently moved and it really changed our world, in good ways and some not so good, for me at least. I was disoriented for awhile. I lived in my last house for over 25 years, so this new place took some getting used to, but little by little, I am making it not just a new house, but my home.

One of the best things about our move was that now we live in the country. It’s like a dream, because I love nature and here there is so much green space, so many meadows and trees and trails and tiny wild creatures. Also horses. We have both been so busy working that we have not explored much of our new environment, but death makes you stop and think about life. After a week of grieving the loss of my beloved cousin, we needed a day just for us.

And yesterday was sunny and crisp, perfect for a cider mill. We decided to take a walk, too. There’s a little town just north of us I wanted to explore. When we got there, we found a trail that goes on for miles and miles. The trees are turning and the entire path was arched with golds and reds and greens. We walked for an hour and saw maybe three people. Quiet. Secluded. Peaceful. Then we left and went to a new cider mill where the donuts were still warm and the cider was sweet and cold. About a thousand bees joined us under a tree. That’s the way it always is, and we laughed about those predictable bees.

We’re nearly at the end of harvest season, but we snagged some tomatoes and fresh bread for BLTs. I have not been cooking much, and don’t fry bacon at all anymore, but yesterday was special in an ordinary way, so yes, I made bacon! Didn’t eat any of it myself … but Al enjoyed it so much. The tomatoes are still juicy and you know what? So is life.