Saturday, August 28, 2010

Decades Behind in Wedding Anniversaries

By the time 9.10.11 arrives and Jeff and I get married, as a first-time-bride I will be decades behind my parents and brothers and several years behind one of my nieces on the wedding anniversary scale.

Next August 29 - 2011 - my brother and sister-in-law celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. His daughter, my niece, has already celebrated her 6th wedding anniversary. My younger brother and sister-in-law have been married nearly 20 years... see, I have lost count... but I know they have managed to survive the test of time,

My parents would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2006, except for the fact that my mother passed away all too soon in 2003. Mom and Dad had been together since 1951 and they married in 1956. All of these married members of my family have enjoyed such happy times, persevered life's struggles and endured mutual heartache. The thing is... they got through all this together.

I find it amazing that my two younger brothers will have celebrated decades of marriage and family life and my oldest niece will have celebrated seven anniversaries ALL before I have been married one minute.

I know that with this kind of track record and me finding THE right person for me, I will eventually celebrate anniversaries, even ones marking a decade or two or three. :)

Robbing the Cradle

When I first thought about dating again, after my year of grieving and recovery, as a 51-year-old widower, something strange happened. I went right back to being 25. That was the last time I had dated. The women I found attractive happened to be half my age. They could be my daughter. Silly me. I was delusional.

I figurtively slapped myself in the face. Wake up, moron! No robbing the cradle. If I was going to date, I would have to find someone if not my own age at least residing in the same zip code, as in 50-something zip. A quarter century had passed, and women my age now had wrinkles, body fat, dyed hair. Some had grandkids. Yikes! Then I looked in the mirror and made an honest evaluation of what i saw. I had wrinkles too. My hair was turning a lovely shade of silver. I had lost my metabolism years earlier and was fighting the battle of the bulge.

I had to retrain my brain to look for a companion my own age. I needed to find someone who had seen life in the trenches, who had recovered from layoffs and illnesses, who had lost people close to them and who had recovered to come back stronger than ever. I needed to find a character with character.

When I went on Yahoo personals, in late September 2008, I was absolutely delighted when two weeks later I found a person, Teri, almost exactly my age. It was uncanny. A miracle. A bit of unexpected synchronicity. As we got to know each other better, we discovered we had even more in common than first imagined. We had both seen life in the trenches. We had both recovered from severe challenges and come back stronger than ever.

OK, so Teri is seven weeks older. At least it's not me who is "robbing the cradle."

The Grande Experiment

We all have any number of second chances in life. After my wife died in September 2007, and after a year of grieving and recovery, a lonely time spent soul searching in my beloved Grande Ronde Valley, I had to contemplate whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life alone or if I wanted a companion for the journey, for the adventure. I chose companionship and it has made all the difference.

I had a second chance at romance and wanted to make the most of my opportunity. I contemplated what had worked and what could have been better in my 24-year marriage. I thought about how, even in the best of relationships, couples begin taking each other for granted. Perhaps I could find a way to circumvent that.

I thought about the what ifs. What if I took an average day, my Groundhog Day, and added features that kept the relationship nurtured? A morning and evening kiss? An evening walk? A family meeting when needed? What if I found a woman who wanted to be the subject of this Grande Experiment? What if she wanted to join me as this lifestyle adventure evolved?

Some relationships implode because of 30-year lifestyle problems. Many more relationships thrive, because a healthy lifestyle is part of the template. I wanted to build that template, one that could evolve for the rest of our lives.

Teri turned out to be the kind of intensely creative soulmate I needed to find to make the Grande Experiment a reality. If life is a rut, why not make it the best rut possible? That's the challenge ahead for Teri and I. The Grande Experiment continues.

Always Have a Trip Planned

Part of a good groundhog Day is to have a future trip -- whether that be a full-scale vacation or a mini-vacation -- in the planning stages. The Oregon Coast. Puget Sound. Canada. Central Oregon. Timberline Lodge. Crater Lake. The Wallowas. Yellowstone National Park. Wherever.

A big part of the fun of any trip is the planning. What to do. Who to do it with. Finding a great place to stay. Finding great bookends -- beginning and ending events to cap the trip, to give it definition.

The full-scale vacation is more expensive. It's a chance to get away for a week, to visit friends and relatives, to walk on the beach through huge flocks of pelicans, seagulls and cormorants. To see an OSU football game or go to a Heart concert. To wander through the Painted Hills, and marvel over the lunar-like landscape of McKenzie Pass.

The mini-vacation can be and should be taken more frequently. We aim to take a mini-vacation once a month. This might involve a long weekend where we go on a photo expedition to restock opportunities for Teri's Oregon desk calendar. It's a chance to get refreshed, see new faces and places and be energized by the endless variety of Oregon scenery.

Regardless of where we go, Teri and I are firm believers that it's the journey that is important, not the destination, although in the Northwest there are many great destinations to contemplate. Some moments of each trip will be more poignant than others. Yet if we keep going, if we keep traveling, sparks will eventually fly, and forever memories will be forged.

Evening walks

Come rain, come snow, come hail or high water, Teri and I are in the habit of going on evening walks. OK, so we are fair weather strollers. Still, there is nothing like a stroll in the moonlight on a warm summer's night. The crickets are chirping. Somewhere about a million chiuauas are barking. The lights of the Walla Walla or Grande Ronde Valley flicker off in the distance like diamonds.

Sprinklers hiss on in people's yards. We watch praying mantises make flight plans. We hear owls off in the distance questioning our identity. We say hi to other strollers out enjoying the evening ambiance. Sometimes we even stop to enjoy blackberries along the roadside.

Sometimes we go for a walk earlier, when it is still daylight. Together, in silence, we watch the sky change color. Mother Nature's fireworks prove to be endlessly fascinating.

Other times we go for a walk after dark. We hold hands, We talk about our 9-10-11 Wedding of the Century. Family barbecues. Future vacation trips. Future mini-vacations. Home designs. Whatever strikes our fancy. It's a great way to reconnect while getting fresh air and exercise. We strengthen our legs and our relationship under the full moon.

Hold the phone

Part of a good Groundhog Day, at least when Teri and I are apart, by necessity, me in my mountain cabin, she in her beach cabin, is the nightly phone call. It gives us a chance to share the highlights of the day. Who brightened our day. The challenges we faced. Funny moments. Times we needed "adult supervision."

A sign on my living room wall encourages us to live well, laugh often and love much. The phone calls reflect this mantra. They let Teri know that I'm thinking about her and wanting to spend quality time with her. Sure, there are some dull moments, some awkward pauses, some harebrained utterances. But it's important to not hang up before the miracle. If we talk long enough, good things invariably happen. We strike a chord. We hit a nerve. We make progress in our relationship building.

It's amazing to think that at one point, before Teri came into my life, I was phone phobic. My blood pressure would shoot up every time the phone rang. I would have to work up the courage, give myself a pep talk, before answering the phone. Some of this still runs in my family. We are hermits by nature, and would rather eat onions raw, walk on a bed of hot coals barefoot or wrestle badgers than talk on the phone.

Teri and I have made great strides in helping me overcome these tendencies. We have permission to talk about anything. We can even have family meetings on the phone, where we solve tough problems by defining the knowns and unknowns. Defining the problem in depth implies a solution. This way, we don't allow problems to fester or grudges to take hold.

Before we part we share a phone hug and kiss and wish each other blissful sleep and sweet dreams. We may not be able to share physical space, some evenings, but we are able to remain important parts of each other's lives, even when we are 90 miles apart. We hang up figuratively having tucked each other into bed, another day behind us well lived.

Best Man

The first time I got married, in December 1983, the wedding took place in my bride's rental home, and I pretty much had the best man appointed for me. Martin did a great job. I think we stayed in touch through nearly the end of the ceremony.

The second time, this time, for Teri and my September 2011 wedding, I wanted to do things differently. Perhaps there is no right way. Still, I wanted to do things in a more traditional manner -- and not rush anything. I wanted to show more gumption and pick a friend of character who could help guide me through the challenges of engagement, relationship building and marriage. Ernie fit the bill. He is my golf partner, and I know through our time on the links that he can deal with the frustrations golf deals out and still see the bigger picture of what's important -- enjoying the day, being outdoors, getting exercise and socializing. Ernie is also a retired yet still practicing Methodist minister, but I won't hold that against him. He delivers meals on wheels and helps people get to hospital appointments. He helped me immensely during leg and neurogenic bladder surgeries, when I was all alone and desperately needed help.

Equally important, Ernie knows how to make a relationship work through personal experience in his 18-year marriage with Neva -- and through counseling others. He has performed many weddings, provided pre-marital counseling. He has watched a few marriages disintegrate and many others that stand the test of time.

Sometimes I agree immediately with Ernie's advice. Other times what he says takes a while to sink in and make sense. The point is, asking for help of any kind is a challenge for me. I have evolved, somewhat. I can get poignant advice from my best man, and it will make all the difference as Teri and I go forward in building our relationship.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Be happy

Some people wait until the economy is just right to be happy. They think when they get the big promotion at work, the big house, the fancy new car, lose 20 pounds, adopt the Siberian tiger for a pet -- then they'll be happy.

Happiness, though, is not a destination. It's a way of life. If Teri and I waited for things to be just perfect before we got married, we might wait forever. We live 90 miles apart. The gas price has risen to $3.05 a gallon. The economy is in the toilet. The house market is reeling. No matter. As Abraham Lincoln said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." And as elaborate surveys say, above the poverty level, happiness is not dependent on more money.

Of course, we'd love a big house, all paid for, that we could live in together. But because we are contrarians we can enjoy the challenges thrust upon us. Even after we get married, on 9-10-11, we may be forced to live a nontraditional life. We will make the best of each day. We will know that each problem implies a solution.

Both of us survived layoffs from great jobs, and landed on our feet, me through moving 2,000 miles from a dream house in Wisconsin back to our beloved Oregon, Teri from going back to school and retraining to become a graphic designer, a job she loves. Both of us survived devastating losses of family members -- my dad, her mom. Both of us survived health crises.

We know that no matter what life throws at us, we can survive and thrive. Everything happens for a reason, and that is to make us stronger. If we step through whatever windows of opportunity open, we will be fine.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Swallowtail blessings

When Teri's mom, Helen, died of leukemia in 2003, it was an extremely difficult time. Among other things, Teri adopted the swallowtail, Oregon's state butterfly, as a symbol of her mom still being around and watching over things. It was reassuring to see these graceful butterflies and know deep in her heart that her mom was nearby and proud of what she was accomplishing.

Since meeting Teri, I, too, have adopted the swallowtail and seek out Helen's blessings. Swallowtails, like Santa Claus, seem to know when I've been good or bad. Now when I go for a lunchtime walk at work, or on one of my four times a week aerobic bike rides, I sometimes see swallowtails and think of Helen giving a thumb's-up or a blessing for that activity. The graceful swallowtails never seem to appear when I am eating ice cream right out of the container, or downing a whole order of starchy, salty fries. The swallowtails never appear when I am munching an apple fritter or contemplating mayhem on another driver who has cut me off in traffic.

Now when I go out for an aerobic bike ride, or when Teri and I go for walks or bike rides together, we keep an eye peeled for a swallowtail flitting from flower to flower or tree to tree. They are magnificent fliers. As Teri does, they love color. They love darting to and fro on the summer breezes.

And when I hold a door open for a stranger, or say hello just because, and a butterfly cruises past right there and then, I think of Helen and feel she is blessing our relationship. She is telling me "Well done, young man," and "Take good care of my Teri." The swallowtail is just one more element that makes our relationship stronger.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blue heron revisited

2010 has been the year of the heron, at least in the Cove area. Persistent spring rains brought widespread flooding in the bottomland along Catherine Creek. Remnants of the flooding remained all the way through July. And the flooded farm fields attracted many blue herons. The heron became an important bird in our relationship on our first date, which included the Pendleton river walk. As we strolled along the Umatilla River, we looked up, as Teri is wont to do. Being a big fan of sunrises and sunsets, she is also a sky watcher, and this time was rewarded in a big way when a magnificent heron flew a perfect circle over our heads and then continued on his adventures. We were awestruck. We took the sighting as a good omen for the future of our relationship, as a blessing from on high.

More positive energy comes from this summer's nearly daily interaction with blue herons along my drive to work. On one magical day, I spotted 19 blue herons. That included one group of 13, a lucky number for us contrarians, taking off into the brilliant morning sky.

Even more positive energy came from a closeup spotting of a heron on my April vacation to the westside of Washington. My mom and I were hiking the trails at the Nisqually Nature Preserve near Olympia, and I came across a blue heron totally entranced with fishing opportunities and unaware of my presence. Usually, blue herons are extremely shy. I took the opportunity and got a spectacular closeup photograph that even includes the heron's top knot shadowed on its back.

Blue herons inspire dreams, promote creativity, instill energy. They give our relationship the Power of Blue.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Oz 7 and Tea Time

Teri and I are both big fans of Dr. Oz, the medicine man. One day on his TV show he was talking about his own daily routine of seven minutes of stretching to start the day. Teri took note and suggested it might be something we'd like to try, on our own and as a couple. It turned out to be a great way to set the tone for the day, and now has become a part of our Groundhog Day. Having experienced a 24-year marriage, I know that the days can start to all blend together, so why not come up with a healthy, positive "rut," one that automatically builds the relationship day after day?

The Oz 7 and now Tea Time with Teri serves as bookends on the day. Tea is relaxing and contributes to good health. When we are living apart, I try to call Teri each evening about 9 so we can stay in touch and build the relationship. At the same time I try to have several cups of tea to start winding down on the day. When we are together, on weekends and during vacations, we get to do the Oz 7 and have Tea Time together.

Both Oz 7 and Tea Time are works in progress. We are still incorporating them into what is evolving into, slowly but surely, a great Groundhog Day.

Someday Oz 7 and Tea Time could be as much a part of our day as enjoying the sunrise and the sunset.