Friday, May 21, 2010

Catching the wave

Ask anybody who knows her. Teri is an entirely different person within sight or smell of the beach. She absolutely, positively loves the rugged beauty and power of the Oregon coast. On our first trip together, Valentine's 2009, she caught her first glimpse of the ocean and was instantly energized. It was a phenomenon to behold.

Right away, Teri needed to get a fresh crab fix. She urgently needed to walk on a beach. Visit a lighthouse. Look for whales. Take enough pictures to fill the Tillamook Cheese factory.

We engaged in a potlatch of gifts that weekend. It's an old Native American tradition where each person tries to outgive the next. The more you give, the better you feel. Among other gifts, Teri gave me the blog classic, "The Daily Coyote," a book written about a young photographer raising a coyote from puphood in northwestern Wyoming, where coyotes are not exactly held in high esteem.

That weekend helped our love grow up to a stronger level, like that of the Pacific, the world's largest ocean.

Family Meeting

There's nothing more entertaining than watching an old couple quibble their way through a grocery store. You can just hear the announcement on the store intercom: food fight in aisle 5. Bring Pepto-Bismal, stat.

A concept I wanted to introduce early on into Teri and my relationship was that of the family meeting. It's not a new idea, certainly. But it is a one that can spell the difference between a functional and dysfunctional relationship.

Teri agreed that we needed a forum where we could talk about anything, bring up any issue that was troubling us, without fear of retribution. My idea? Set aside a few minutes. Get a snack and a beverage. Make the family meeting part of our tradition. Topics can range from vacation planning to boundary issues. The possibilities are infinite.

I wanted to avoid a relationship where passive aggression rules, where the parties stay quiet just to keep the relationship alive, and everyone is tiptoeing on eggshells. Regular family meetings can help a couple avoid food fights.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flashback: The game plan

It's a man's dream: having the whole house to himself. Belching at will. Drinking beer whenever he pleases. Taking a bath once a year whether he needs it or not.

I was miserable for a long time dealing with grief after my wife, Tina's death in September 2007. Sometimes I felt as if I would never crawl out from under that cloud.

Still, I enjoyed as time went on reinventing the house in a way where it would run most efficiently. Everything in its place. Order rules after years of chaos.

And I did begin to enjoy my newspaper job again, after months of going through the motions like a journalistic zombie. Finally, I saw the light at the end of a long tunnel. I saw hope.

I knew I wanted more. I needed a companion that didn't bark or meow. I needed someone to do things for, to do things with. I knew I might live another 30 years. It was too long a time to spend alone. Life is meant to be shared.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hold the phone

Part of a good Groundhog Day, I decided early on, especially considering the time Teri and I had to spend 90 miles apart, was nightly phone calls. Or maybe I should call it a good Groundhog Night. We could share laughs, tears, tease each other, make plans, help the relationship grow over time.

At first, though, all I had were a landline phone and a calling card with an extremely cheap rate per minute. I was a technophobe stuck in the 20th century. Even at my "cheap rate," costs mounted. Teri, who is much more techno savvy, came to the rescue. One day in February 2009 she, her dad Al and I went to the phone store, geared up and joined a cost-effective cell phone family plan. Now we could call anytime we wanted, and talk as long as we wanted, for the same low rate. The two-year contract we signed was our first contract together, but it held promise, for me at least, that our relationship was secure until far into the future.

I thanked my lucky stars that a cell phone tower had been built on the ridge near my house shortly before Teri and I met, in October 2008. Some might complain that the tower desecrated the natural beauty. For me, the tower brought much joy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Personal Space

"Preparation makes the master" is the German expression. I prefer it to the American version, "Practice makes perfect." Nothing is perfect. The longer a person is on this planet, the more he or she realizes that it is a game of slight misses and imperfections, but miracles do happen.

Sure, it's good to dream big. But it's equally wise not to form unrealistic expectations and then be disappointed at less than optimum outcomes.

Preparing for my first "date" in 25 years, and as one of the 40 percent of Americans classified as "shy," I decided it would be a healthy distraction to take along some props. Mine was a tape measure I carried in my pocket. I had joked in our e-mails about Danish Americans' need for extraordinary personal space. While researching this topic, I discovered the following rules of thumb: acquaintance space, up to 8 feet; friend space, up to 4 feet; intimate space, up to 2 feet. That way, a person can gauge how they're doing based on comfortableness when inside those circles.

What would be my own comfort zone with Teri? We had developed such good rapport through miles of e-mails and rivers of phone calls that our immediate comfort zone, when we arrived at the Tamástslikt museum, put us within the friend/intimate range. Sure, there was no need to rush intimacy. Being close and comfortable, though, seemed natural from our first face-to-face meeting.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The First Thanksgiving

Forty percent of the world's people are shy, and Teri and I are to varying degrees among this population. It's an endearing quality in a little kid. Yet it's less appealing in a 50-something person. Living several hundred miles away from my mom's, and working at a newspaper with limited time off for holidays, I was happy to have a new family to share Thanksgiving 2008 with. Still, I worried about meeting new people. I worried if I would make a good impression and get a thumb's up for continuing to share space with their daughter, sister and friend.

As we drove up to brother Stuart's country home, my apprehensiveness over crowd dynamics was palpable. Where would I sit, or would I need to mingle? Who would I talk to? Who would talk to me? Would I have to go out to a field and shoot targets to prove my manliness? Would there be drinking? Dancing? Irrational exuberance?

Their welcome was warm and comfortable. As it turned out I had nothing to fear but my own phobias.

Still, for every hour with people, the rule of thumb for shy people goes, we need to spend two hours alone or in quiet company decompressing. We need to recharge our batteries. I have learned, as Kahlil Gibran advised, to put spaces in our togetherness, so that Teri and I both have enough quiet moments to recover.

We love family and are dedicated to them, and at that First Thanksgiving I felt fortunate to be welcomed into the fold.