Saturday, October 27, 2012

After the Wedding: Family Thoughts

The family of the bride - Art's daughter Laura - turned up, for the most part, at the beautiful wedding in Akumal, Mexico last week. Five of her siblings, a sister-in-law, her mom and stepdad, her dad and me. We spent a good part of four days together, in various configurations. One day we all piled into a van to explore Chichen Itza. On another, we joined Brian the groom's family on a snorkeling trip.

Of the 28 people who attended the wedding, about half were from Brian's side - his parents, sister, aunt and uncle and cousins. The other half were Laura's immediate family only. Not present at the wedding were Laura's numerous aunts and uncles and even more numerous cousins. She has a large family; her mom Nancy has seven siblings and her dad Art has seven, and most of these people have children as well. They will be seeing Laura and Brian at a holiday family gathering in December here in Seattle.

I sat in the front row on the bride's side at the ceremony, between my husband Art and his ex-wife Nancy. We were all happy to be there together. Art and I have been together for 20 years; Nancy and her husband Clete for nearly that long. We don't see each other often, but we're cordial. And on this day we were also proud.

When Art and I got together his youngest son Greg was five years old and his older daughter Melissa was eighteen. My son James was twelve and my son Russ was fourteen. I was mom or stepmom to eight children.  Two of Art's children - including Laura - lived with us for several years. Two others of them visited us on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend for nearly ten years.  As I looked around at Laura's wedding, I remembered when all of Art's children were younger. I played a part in the raising of most of them, and today I have a relationship with every one. I felt comfortable sitting in the front row at the wedding. During the ceremony, Laura gave a red rose to all four of her parents - to her stepdad Clete and her mom Nancy, to her Wicked Stepmother Linda and to Art, her Pops. 

Last spring, when we asked Laura how we could help with the wedding, she asked us to make sure her siblings could be at the wedding in Mexico. That meant airfare for a few, plus frequent reminders about getting passports. Mission accomplished.

Three of our sons - one of Art's and both of mine - could not attend the wedding. If I ruled the world all of them would have accepted our offer of airfare and cleared their calendars, but that's not always possible. As it turned out, the people who arrived in Akumal were the ones who were supposed to be there after all.

When I was a young woman, I visualized being married and having children and living my whole life with that family. Instead, I married and had children, then divorced and remarried and acquired stepchildren. They are all my family, this configuration. I'm a lucky woman.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What I'm learning in Akumal, Mexico

Our daughter Laura is getting married today - she and her bridal party and the other mothers are in the villa next door, getting their hair and makeup done (for $125 a person!) in preparation for the 5:30 wedding. I have curly hair so I opted out. We'll be spending the day in the "penthouse" of our own villa, reading and blogging and sunning, plus hosting anyone from the villa next door who might stop by for a quiet break.

Here's what I've learned so far this week.

1. I love sunshine, but I could never live in a place where it's hot and humid year round. I can be a sweaty mess for a week, but that's about it. Tucson in the winter looks better and better as the time draws near.

2.  A week in a villa with an ocean view is a great place to catch up on reading all the New Yorker, Atlantic and Time magazines I brought with me.

3.  Taking an exercise class for seniors three mornings a week at home means that we have the stamina for all-day outings in Mexico. We are the oldest of the 28 people here, and no one had to slow down for us. That makes it easier to get up in the morning for the class even when it's raining and not really light out yet.

4. I remember most of my very bad Spanish from our trip to Ecuador last February.

5.  Chichen Itza is worth a three-hour van ride.

6.  It is totally awesome to snorkel in the midst of a large school of fish.

7. It is even more awesome to wake up the morning after snorkeling and feel no sore muscles.

8. Sunscreen is my very good friend. Numerous family members are quite sunburned. Playing on the beach for three hours in the heat of the day will do that. Especially in places nearer the equator than Washington State, where most of us live.

9. It doesn't matter what I wear as long as it's cool. Today I am wearing a ten-year-old tank top and the shorts from even older convertible hiking pants. Who cares? 

10. If there is an enormous supply of beer and wine and liquor in stock, it will all be consumed. There's no such thing as too much. I remember this myself from years ago, but I see it big time this week. My goodness!

My stepdaughter Laura lived with us from the time she was 14 until she joined the Navy at 19. She has become a beautiful, self-possessed, independent young woman. I'm very proud of her and am grateful for the part I've been able to play in her life.  She has chosen a young man who is her equal. I'm delighted with that. Last summer, Laura and Brian flew from their home in New Jersey to Seattle for the wedding of one of Laura's friends. On the day of the wedding, during the "getting ready" time, Brian spent two hours sitting at our table, explaining their work to us (they're both engineers working in the nuclear power industry). He was patient and an excellent teacher. Then he asked Art for permission to marry Laura! He's a great mix of the modern and the traditional, and we're pleased as we can be that he'll be part of our family.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Bag Lady ponders

I've been thinking about recent trips I've taken and what they've meant to me.
  • One in August to Rockland, Maine, for our fifth six-day sail on the Schooner Heritage. 
  • Two weeks later, to rural New York and a retreat for women who love a veteran. 
  • Two weeks after that, to nearby Vashon Island, Washington for a first-time weekend with five other bloggers. 
  • And next Monday, a six-day vacation in Akumal, Mexico, to snorkel and sun and explore ruins and celebrate the wedding of Art's daughter Laura.
When I think about the trips, I think about my life these days. I started this blog in January 2010 because I was six months away from quitting my job of 20 years. I was excited and terrified. I worried about the money - in spite of a reassuring spreadsheet - and wondered if I'd find enough to do. Nearly three years later, life looks quite different.

The Schooner Heritage is a favorite trip for us, even though it's not easy to get to Maine from Seattle - and nearly impossible on a budget. The sail is a source of deep relaxation for us, but for my husband Art it's a chance to help sail, and put on a costume to be a pirate one morning at breakfast (very embarrassing!!!), and eat comfort food and wonderful lobster. I think if we could only take one trip a year Art would choose this one. He's a very good sport about taking all my other travel suggestions, but this one's for him.

The New York retreat came up just a couple of months before, held by the wife of the psychotherapist who took Art and me to Viet Nam back in 2005, as a way to help Art heal from PTSD. That was a life-changing journey. We even wrote a book about it. A retreat just for the women, though - "they also serve who also stand and wait." The trip reminded me how grateful I am for the financial resources to take this trip, and of the opportunities that can happen for me if I'm willing to say "yes".

The Vashon retreat - with five bloggers I met through the written word before we saw each other face to fact - full of laughter and easy conversation. This virtual community has become a real place for me, where friends are found. We found that our written words reflected the people we really are. We six bloggers already knew each other by the time we arrived at our lodging.

And the trip to Mexico. We are so proud of daughter Laura's accomplishments and are delighted with Brian, the man she's chosen to share her life with. Five of Art's six children will be there next week, plus Laura's mom and stepdad and half brother, and Brian's family.  I'm grateful for this blended family I'm a part of - including the experience of planning a gathering with Laura's mom Nancy for when Laura and Brian come to visit in December! It reminds me that we really are all in this together. 

For me, travel isn't just about going places. It's about learning and growing, meeting people from other places, using my ordinary eyes and ears to experience the other-ordinary. When I worked, travel was about relaxation. Now it's about living. For some reason I hadn't thought about that until recently - in spite of the 22 trips we've taken since my last day of work in June of 2010.

When I'm home I'm learning and growing as well. Two weeks ago we hosted a Swiss family - a mother and three of her children - for four days at our home. We all talked and laughed and learned. I'm almost ready to be certified as a mediator - I brought my own talents to a new field and love how I can be useful in the community. We were interviewed last week by a journalist from a local paper. While we talked about our book, we found mutual interests. I've even agreed to speak briefly at a local event honoring veterans, and to donate a copy of the book to a silent auction. Again, it's about being willing to say "yes".

In January 2010, the Bag Lady saw only the money. She didn't see the life. And I look at the spreadsheet now. It's still pretty encouraging. Probably wouldn't be if we'd bought a new car, or an RV,  or seen the world from a first-class place instead of a sensible one. Fortunately, I'm fine with sensible.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekend of the Bloggers Six

It was actually Deb's idea that we get together - she writes the blog Catbird Scout.  We met at a Starbucks in Vancouver a couple of months ago. We compared the blogs we followed and developed a short list of ladies we might invite to a weekend gathering. I sent out an email, and within a couple of weeks we had six "yes" responses, a date - the weekend of October 5 - and a place - Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island, across the water from Seattle.

We arrived in two cars. DJan - of the blogs D-Janity and Eye on the Edge - and Jann of Benchmark 60 came to my house, and we carpooled to Seattle.  Deb and Sandi - who writes Flying Into the Light - drove north from Vancouver together.  Both groups got thoroughly lost between their points of origin and the Fauntleroy-Vashon Island ferry, arriving two hours later than expected.

I was one of the hapless drivers. I've lived in the Seattle area for 25 years but was unable to navigate the 20-minute route between the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where we picked up Sally - who writes Retired English Teacher and flew in from Colorado Springs - and the ferry. As a former type-A personality and perpetual achiever, it was a humbling experience. In our car we had two iPhones, a GPS and a MapQuest printout. We trusted the electronic devices; we should have relied upon the printout.

So here we are. Three of us prepared a Friday night meal of butternut ravioli, veggies and salad and a berry dessert. We had a great Saturday breakfast at The Hardware Store in Vashon, explored the Saturday Farmer's Market, drove to Robinson Point Light Station to walk on the driftwood-strewn beach. All along we're talking - as a group or in pairs or trios. Back at Lavender Hill, we visited an estate sale or sat on the porch. And a long afternoon with the six of us on the porch until the afternoon chill chased us indoors again.

About each other before this weekend, we knew only what each of us had blogged; what we knew we had in common was professional women at or near retirement. We'd followed each other's blogs for the most part. More than half of us have lost a child.  All but one of us live in the Pacific Northwest. Four of us are educators.

Now we know more. We've had conversations about things not in our blogs. We have more in common than we knew. We feel more connected now than we did before this weekend.

Next year we want to meet again. Maybe in Colorado. Maybe we'll make a longer list and send an email to a few more women.

Monday, October 1, 2012

My happy place

Sometimes, in my life, I look at what's happening and how I'm feeling, and I know I'm in my happy place.  My life is balanced, my health is good, my activities interesting, and my relationships rewarding. I used to think I had to work really hard to find such a state, or find the magic formula. As I've gotten older, it's not so hard - it's almost like a gift from the universe to those of us further on in life.

A blogging friend, Galen Pearl, has written a book called 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There). It's also the name of her blog, where much of her book originated. I got a copy of the book recently, with a request that I write a review. I read it in a couple of days. In her introduction, Galen says, "Happiness is not a destination, not something to be pursued. It is the way we live." The 10 Steps in her book, and the multiple two-page sections in each Step, are descriptions, ideas, experiences, wisdoms, and commentary. Galen includes short quotes from various sources; one example in her introduction is "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it." (George Moore)

As I read the book, I thought it would be lovely to read one short piece each morning as part of my quiet time, as a useful reminder of one way to be in the world, at times when I think all I am is a maker and executor of to-do lists.

My favorite chapters? Step 2 in Galen's list is "Decide if You Want to Be Right or Happy". I actually discovered the wisdom of putting "being right" way down on my list of ways to live when I was in my 50s. Life-long Achiever, you know. And Step 8 is "Forgive Everyone". I resisted that idea for many, many years. It wasn't until a visit to my great grandfather's grave a year ago that I finally got it. Reading the sections of Step 8 in Galen's book reminded me of the gifts I get when I take that Step. These two Steps, in particular, remind me of recent ways I've grown.

Galen includes pieces of her own life to illustrate the Steps. She remains an optimist even after facing many challenges. I couldn't say, "Well, of course she has Happy Steps. She hasn't had a lot of hardship in her life." But she's had her share.

10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), by Galen Pearl. Optimistic and wise. Worth a read!