Friday, April 30, 2010

Balancing Act

As you may know, Jeff and I live 90 miles apart. Trust me; the distance is only in the location of our homes and employment. We feel we are closer than many same-residence couples. The days apart, we e-mail at intervals throughout the day, talk via cell phone each night, send and receive cards through the mail. Most weekends you can find us at one of our homes, or, on a trip somewhere making the most of our time together.

Both employed in different towns and not wanting to give up our day jobs we need to live apart during the week, for now. We both have plenty of responsibility at work and at home. We both have projects and outside interests. We both have family, friends and neighbors. We both have quite a few distractions and tasks that require our time. Our respective days can be long ones, yet we still make the time to remain in close contact every day. We manage to get in some quiet time to talk, laugh, discuss and share. We know that we are both ‘there for’ each other and can be counted on for anything.

We help each other work through various things – health, family relationships, work matters and our own journey. There are times when one of us takes up the slack, keeping things in perspective so we can keep things in balance. Other times, it is the other one of us tipping the scales back to center. There have even been times when we drop everything and simply ‘get away’… whether it be for a walk, a hike, bicycle ride, drive or a mini-vacation. Sometimes to keep things together you need to turn away, to revitalize, clear you mind.

Regardless, we are doing all that we can to keep our balance.

Opposites Attract: Cold Weather, Warm Family

Jeff’s trip over the mountains was quite the adventure… not one for the faint-of-heart. The below freezing temperatures and icy road conditions made for a treacherous trip, but Jeff was determined to share the holidays with me and my family; Jeff’s new family.

While the weather and road conditions were cold and icy; the reception Jeff received from me and my family was quite the opposite, warm and friendly.

My family truly enjoys Jeff. They see his goodness, appreciate his wit and humor. They know of his kind thoughtful ways. Yet, my family especially appreciates how he treats me, with all the warmth and caring anyone could wish for.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Meeting the Parents

Even when you're in your fifties, meeting the parents can be a harrowing experience. I knew Teri's dad, Al, was Old School. He was still working as a parts man at age 76. He had been a mechanic. An Army veteran. A hunter and fisherman. I was afraid there would be a test. I would have to shoot a deer, fix a transmission and survive in the wild for a week on just fruits and berries. I'd have to clean a fish, wave a flag and know when to salute. We met for the first time at Ron's, a family diner in Milton-Freewater, for hamburgers and conversation. What I found was a man of character who had raised a daughter who knew how to connect with people, commit to projects and care. What better legacy? Just to be safe, though, I began vigorously practicing marksmanship with my Red Ryder bb gun.

The Birthday Challenge

Birthdays can be such a challenge. One year I caught grief when I bought my wife a Dirt Devil hand vacuum. The next year I tried to atone for my sins by buying her a Shop Vac. Now I know better. I try to get a romantic gift that says, I love you, Sweetheart. Huggy Bear. Misty Lips. This year, on her birthday, April 6, also known as Twinkies Day, I got Teri a bicycle. Not just any bicycle, mind you, but a hot pink one. It's a bicycle that brings back fond memories of tooling around the old neighborhood and screaming down the street without an adults' Big Bag O' Worries. No, it's not jewelry or dark chocolate, which are both good birthday gifts. The bike, though, is a gift that keeps on giving through the years. A person can ride bicycle into his or her 90s if he or she is lucky enough to live that long, and it can profoundly improve the quality of the years one is given. We'll ride together, forever. And it will be fine as long as we can remember where home is.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Great Divide

Dating someone who lives 90 miles away can be a challenge. That's especially true when a mountain range separates your two homes, and winter descends with storms lining up over the Pacific Ocean like planes circling a major metropolitan airport, just waiting to come ashore and blast said mountains with a fresh covering of snow. One particularly memorable drive occurred on Christmas Eve 2008. It was to be our first Christmas together as a couple. I got over the Blue Mountains OK and down Cabbage Hill, one of the most memorable declines in the American interstate system — six miles of 6 percent grade. The snowstorm, though, was just cranking up. It turned into a near blizzard the closer I got to Teri's. As I bumped along over snowdrifts, following the lights of the rig ahead of me, I thought about all the turmoil I had gone through to get to this point in my life and the joy a future with Teri promised. The storm intensified. Finally I descended into Milton-Freewater. I was home. A few minutes later the state closed the road behind me for lack of visibility. My best gift that year was to be safe and secure with my new family.

Oregon is for lovers

Our first Valentine's Day together just happened to be Feb. 14, 2009, Oregon's 150th birthday. On our way to the Oregon coast, our first big trip together in the state we both love, we serendipitously came across big doings in Salem, the state capital. It was a mob scene. A regular lovefest. And one of the guests who just about ran us over was former Governor Barbara Roberts.

Thousands of people had converged under the gold pioneer man who stands atop the capitol building, and there was even a wedding under way in a nearby gazebo. Just down the street was the magnificent church where Teri's dad and mom had got married. Love was in the air. The sprinkles failed to dampen the mood of the thousands gathered to salute a state of infinite diversity, a geographic wonderland that Teri memorializes each year in her calendar. Teri's excitement at being involved in this historical day in a state she loves with all her heart was contagious.

Flashback: Going through hell

A favorite saying of ours goes like this: "When you're going through hell, keep going." I always thought I'd be married to one woman forever. I had a house. A job. A steady relationship designed to last a lifetime. Life, though, throws curveballs. My wife, Tina, suffered through a devastating illness, diabetes complicated by autoimmune inner ear disease, and in September of 2007, at age 48, she died. Suddenly I was alone. I grieved. I was under a cloud for a long, long time. I went to therapy (paid for by my work) and read all sorts of books that said grieve fully. Don't delay it. Don't postpone it. They also warned about getting stuck in 2007. Today, if she were alive, my wife would be honored, even though her halo was somewhat tarnished, that I thought so highly of her this many years later. Then she would say, in her bull in the china shop sort of way, "Move on. Honor me by living a rich, rewarding life. Take the initiative. Don't wait for someone to rescue you. And for God sakes, get off the pity potty. Get out there and live."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blue Heron

On our first date, the Pendleton River Walk along the Umatilla River Oct. 26, 2008, Teri and I saw a beautiful Blue Heron make a perfect circle in the sky above us. My mentor, Sandy, is a firm believer in the spiritual language of nature. She believes the animal world has a lot to teach us. She looked up Blue Heron in a book to see what it means if a Blue Heron crosses a couple's path. Here's what she found: Teri and Jeff are unique people who like to be alone but also enjoy other people's company. They're adaptable and enjoy exploring new and different avenues in their life paths. They both are strong in character and always take responsibility for their own actions. The Blue Heron reflects the innate wisdom of being able to maneuver through life. They both know what is best for them and follow it rather than listening to the prompting of others. They possess great self reliance. They are very observant and always stand on their own two feet. They dance to their own drummer.

Flashback to Cupid

After my wife Tina's untimely death at age 48 from complications of diabetes, I spent a year wondering if I'd ever feel normal again. Things that concerned other people -- restaurant service, lousy drivers, yo-yoing stocks -- didn't matter to me. The books advised me to make sure I grieved fully, and not to look for a relationship while I was still on the rebound. There is no correct timing. But I waited a year just the same before I even thought about dating. Well, I did think about it a little, as in planning for how I would approach a relationship differently, what worked with Tina, what didn't. I was not a bar hound. A church goer. A club member or back-slapping socializer. And I really didn't want a work relationship. That is how Tina and I met, but I wanted something totally different this time. Then a co-worker advised me to try personals. It was totally out of my comfort zone. It was like nothing I had ever done before. It sounded like a great adventure. What did I have to lose? My Cupid assured me I could do it and it would work. If the other person was telling the truth on their profile, I could learn a lot about them before I even asked for a first date. I could decide, rather scientifically, if we had enough in common to make a relationship work. It sounded scary. It sounded promising. In late September 2008 I signed up for a half-year's subscription. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did. Pure luck, sure. But I was due.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dating a contrarian

The online dating experts recommend keeping the first date short. Aim for no more than an hour. Meet for coffee, they suggest. Always keep the Exit Sign within sight, in case the once sparking chemistry experiment begins emitting smoke.

The experts also recommend meeting in a public place for safety. That's so if the person you're dating turns out to be a Dumpster diver with huge intestinal parasites, you can leave in a hurry.

Teri and I did meet in a public place -- Tamastslikt Cultural Institute. Otherwise, though, we broke all the dating rules. Being contrarians, we would have had it no other way.

Our first date -- October 26, 2008 -- turned out to be a four-in-one special, a marathon. The cultural institute proved to be only the first leg. Instead of an hour, the date lasted 10 hours, and left us eager for more.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Our first date… or should I say Marathon.

We made our way into the Tamastslikt Cultural Center Institute. In the lobby we looked at the exhibits and chatted with the attendant on duty. Jeff asked him to take a photo of us together – the first of many over the course of our relationship. Being a journalist, Jeff in well accustomed to documenting events, gatherings, journeys and our first date was no exception.

As with our letters and phone calls, our in-person visit was quite involved too. We chatted all the way through the Tamastslikt Museum, the art gallery and the gift shop. These venues were each of great interest to us, but apparently no match for our wish to communicate and share with each other. While in the gift shop, Jeff made sure that I chose something so that I would have ‘a souvenir of our first date’ – I chose a beautiful coffee/tea cup. Every time I use that cup I remember that wonderful time, and I am so glad that my journalist urged me to allow him to get me something.

After the museum, gallery and gift shop, we went to brunch. This, my friends was no ordinary brunch… oh, I am not talking about the grand selection of food or the delightful surroundings and views we had – oh, no, I am talking about the conversation. Can you believe; we still had more things to communicate and share – one topic lead to another and another. We finally decided we had better leave, after we got another photo taken, of course. After all, we had been there for about three/three and one-half hours.

And… we were not done yet. Since we live 90 miles apart and had such great weather, Jeff suggested we go into town and go on the River Walk. We each drove our own cars to Pendleton and I followed Jeff to a parking lot near the Umatilla River. We walked down the river a ways, walked up the hill to a residential part of town to see one of the homes he live in while in college and to get another view of the city. Then we walked back down the hill and resumed our River Walk. There we shared a beautiful afternoon. The sound of the river, the gentle breeze, the beautiful trees and birds… and the Great Blue Heron that flew along the river, then circled back – Jeff describes this better than I, but I do remember this and hopefully always will. We’d walk for a while, sit on one of the many benches or on some rocks closer to the river, we took more photos (duh, that should be expected of two photographers.) The sun was then going down and the air bringing on a chill. We got back to our cars and decided we needed some tea, coffee or hot chocolate to warm ourselves up… so we took off for a nearby restaurant……….yes, more of this marathon!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Relief at last.

Thankfully, Jeff was not arrested by the Tribal Police, and I was not pulled over and questioned as I pulled into the parking lot. In fact, I really doubt they were even concerned we were there.

Our first meeting. Jeff was nearly as I had pictured and as he had presented himself online and during our phone conversations. I learned then, and keep learning, how much more kind, considerate and thoughtful he truly is. That day he had an endearing child-like enthusiasm and still does. He had stated to me, prior to our rendezvous that he was and would be more than a bit nervous. I had thought that I might be too – with one exception. It seemed to me that we already knew each other pretty well. I told Jeff that while I thought I might be a bit nervous too, I looked at this as the fact that I was going to meet a great friend of mine and spend some time with him. So, when we met, I treated him as I do all my good friends, I gave him a hug. That could have been quite the demonstrative greeting for some, but for me it was normal.

We chatted for a short while, “How was your trip”, “Have you been here long?”, “Beautiful day for this late in October.” You get the idea. Jeff recovered nicely from my hug and then presented me with some gifts… the one I remember most…. a container of Oreos. Since that’s how this all got started, how fitting for our first date.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Arresting development

After miles of e-mails and hours of phone calls, it was time, at last, to meet face to face. The book recommended meeting in a public place, for safety, and planning a short date, in case something went dreadfully, knuckle-draggingly wrong. I was looking everywhere for good omens as I drove the 60 miles to Wildhorse. It was an ideal Indian Summer day, Oct. 26, 2008. I had the radio on and as I got to the crest of the Blue Mountains, I heard Joe Cocker singing, "My Baby, She Wrote Me a Letter." That buoyed my confidence. It's meant to be, I thought. I was first to arrive at the deserted Tamastkalikt Cultural Center parking lot. We were to meet at 10:30 a.m. Soon after several patrol cars drove up. I thought, What in the world is going on? My anxiety ratcheted up a notch. Was I doing something illegal? This was my first crack at Internet dating. Had something gone terribly wrong? Turned out the tribal police had picked this Sunday morning, of all Sunday mornings, to conduct drills. Soon after Teri showed up in her Dodge Caliber. When we weren't both instantly arrested, I let out a big sigh of relief.