Love at First Sight

How love begins fascinates me, probably because of the way I fell in love. Sometimes people know each other for only a short time before they find they can’t live without each other. Sometimes they know each other for most of their lives and slip into life together seamlessly. Sometimes people meet and know almost immediately that they were meant to be together. That’s what happened to me. I fell in love with my husband the first time I saw him. I have no idea why, but something about him resonated with me, long before I ever spoke to him. He was my fairy tale, my Prince Charming, my knight in shining armor.

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I remember the moment I saw him like it was yesterday. I was in summer school, my last quarter of college, finishing the last two classes I needed for graduation. My friend Laura wanted me to go to O’Malley’s bar with her, but I didn’t want to go out that night. Laura could be very persuasive, and I went. I’m awfully glad I did. (Thanks again, Laura!)

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O’Malley’s on the Oconee 

Located on the Oconee River, O’Malley’s was a bar with a split personality. Inside a dance bar throbbed with music and crowds of people. Outside, young men and women enjoyed fine summer weather on the deck overhanging the Oconee. The first time I saw my husband, I was walking out to the deck from inside. I looked across the wooden expanse of deck filled with people and saw a man in a sky blue polo shirt sitting on the top rail talking to his friend. He had a beautiful smile and an honest face. When I saw him, I nudged Laura and said, “You see that guy over there in the blue shirt? That’s my husband.”

I can’t tell you why I knew that, but I did, as surely as I knew my own name. Only a few times in my life have I been struck with absolute certainty of the outcome of events, but each time I’ve had that feeling, what I’ve foreseen has come true. I was certain about him.

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Engagement photo: We were so young!

During the course of the night, I literally ran smack into him inside the crowded bar area. He said hi, and I said hi. Then he said he was going to get a drink, and I thought my chance was over. Later that night, the man I thought I liked asked me why the guys I was talking to were all guys he knew, which really meant I shouldn’t hit on his friends, I suppose. (I wasn’t.) I saw my future hubby sitting close by, and worked up some courage. I walked over to him, and the first thing he said was, “There you are,” like he had been looking for me. I was smitten.

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Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston

We talked the rest of the night. I found out he was only in Athens for three weeks. (the horror!) He was there for a class at the Navy Supply Corps School. Thank goodness I met him the second night he was there! He asked me for my phone number, and I gave it to him. But with drunken helpfulness, I tried to help him memorize it. Three days later, my friend and I were “laying out” by the pool at my apartment complex, and I wondered out loud why he hadn’t called. “He was so sincere, ” I said. “He just didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would ask for my number and not call.” Then I recalled our conversation and my “helpfulness.”

Once again, I worked up some courage, but this time no alcohol was involved. I called the Navy school and asked for him. The person who answered took my message. It was simply my name and the correct phone number. He called about 20 minutes later to ask me out for a date. That was in July. I proceeded to skip two weeks of summer school to spend time with him. I even missed an exam. When i went to plead my case to the professor, I told him the truth. I said I had met the man I was going to marry and had spent all my time with him. He allowed me to make up the exam. We became engaged the following January and married the following October.

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Marine Corps Ball 1986

Today, October 3rd, we have been married for 30 years, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever. He’s my best friend, the love of my life, and the man I will always follow wherever life takes us. We are living our happily ever after!

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Happily Ever After!

 

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Real life vs. Social Media

For awhile now, I’ve been contemplating giving up Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, or at least curtailing the time I spend on it. I started participating in these platforms because I wanted to stay in touch with friends, and I’ve done that. I’ve reconnected with childhood friends, my friends from college and my time as a military wife. I’ve also remained connected to others I’ve met more recently, especially my writer friends. I’ve joined quite a few online groups to connect with other writers through Facebook and on Twitter, too. Writing is such a solitary occupation (especially when you practice it in a rural setting) that connecting through the internet is invaluable and validating. There really are others out in the world who write!

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A secondary reason I became involved in social media was to build an audience for my book(s) when I am published one day. I don’t really know if I’ve managed to build an audience, (perhaps a small one) and my books aren’t on the market yet. Though I still like being on social media, I spend far too much time following my interests down the rabbit home of information and curiosity. I will intend to spend only a moment checking updates but find that an hour and a half has passed before I realize it. I no  longer have much time to do other things!

Also, I’ve noticed something about myself and the time I spend on social media. I feel scattered. I struggle to concentrate. I am disconnected from life rather than connected to it. I don’t engage with my writing as readily as I once did.  I have trouble concentrating on long passages of reading or writing for extended periods of time; whereas, I used to read and write for hours. I also used to draw, sew, garden, watch birds and myriad other pursuits. Ironically, my world and my interests have narrowed even as the internet has brought the world to my fingertips.

Once I wrote from a place of deep introspection. When I sat down to write, the words bubbled up from deep within. Not at first, but it didn’t take long to enter the mindset necessary for the magic to happen. Sometimes hours would pass, but it only felt like minutes. Characters appeared seemingly from the ether. Experiences, voices, descriptions, scenes, dialogue, all these passed through me. I was the conduit for the story. I didn’t think it up. I simply waited for it to come to me, and I wrote it down. It was glorious, like a runner’s high, endorphins exploding inside me and filling me with deep satisfaction. When I found that I could disappear into the words and rhythms of the story I was writing, I knew I had found my release, my meditation, my art. I want that back.

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Now I struggle to write because I inhabit a place of frenetic activity, sound bites, and frequent interruptions. I think my characters into being rather than being open to the muse and letting the action and the characters appear as they once did.

If the creative act of writing is a meditative, relaxed, art-minded state of being, taking part in social media is the farthest thing from it. When I have written, I usually discover something about myself or gain some insight into the writing process or human nature. But on social media those moments of insight are rare. When I hop on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I tell myself I will only scroll down my feed (disgusting term, that) for a few minutes, but I so easily succumb to the seduction of reading articles, looking at pictures of cute puppies, watching videos–you name it–that I often spend far too long there and come away feeling less happy, less settled, less satisfied with life than when I began. I should have more will power, but I know that social media sites do a lot of research to keep me clicking.

I have decided to conduct an experiment. Starting today, I am going to limit my time on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Oh, and definitely Pinterest, that black hole of a time suck where I tend to dawdle! From now until further notice–at least a month or longer–I plan to be on social media only AFTER I have worked, written, read, cooked, gardened, walked Stella, visited with friends, and generally enjoyed my life.

I am going to live my life, rather than share an edited-for-media version of it. I want face-to-face conversations with my friends at dinner parties over good food and wine. I want to float down the river with my husband and walk with him in the forest to pick berries or see the leaves change. I want to visit with my children and really hear what is going on in their lives. I want live music, art, and travel. No more distractions, no more staring at a phone or a computer screen.

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I’m making a change today to save my brain from the constant barrage of ads and negativity I find on social media. I will continue to write this blog, and I hope you’ll follow me here, but I am limiting myself to an hour each day of activity on all media. I know it will take a lot of willpower to make this happen. All habits are hard to break, but I hope to be a happier, more productive person, a better writer, a more attentive wife, and a more loving mother, sister, daughter, and friend. I’ll check in and let you know how it’s going. You’ll still find me on my social media platforms, but not as often as before. If you feel compelled join me in sharply curtailing your involvement in social media or have done so already, leave me a note and tell me how your life was changed (or not). I’d love to hear your story!

In the Midsummer Garden

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” –Gertrude Jekyll
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Summer in the Midwest is fleeting. Here it is, July 25, 2016, and though we’ve been suffering in the heat and humidity (though not as much as you Southerners!), we will soon bundle ourselves in woolen sweaters and goose down to fend off the cold. This spell of warm weather with the humidity induced mists over the fields will be but a memory. That’s why I decided to share with you some of my favorite parts of my gardens, my favorite place to be this time of year.

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When we moved into our house, we had no gardens at all, only sandy dirt and rocks. Over the course of the last ten years, Bruce and I have worked to create gardens all around our house. I cut out pictures from magazines of what I liked. With his own artistic vision and the muscles to help me realize my own, Bruce and I have nearly “finished” our landscaping. Here is the vegetable garden. Two years ago we decided to take up square foot gardening. It has been a qualified success. We don’t get quite as much produce as we once did from approximately the same area, but the garden itself looks beautiful, I think.

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The picture above shows our vegetable garden where we grow all our vegetables in raised beds, except our tomatoes. This year we’ve experimented with growing tomatoes in pots. I’m not sure I like that as well–lots of hand watering–but they have not been afflicted with the diseases they were plagued with before. We’ll see how they taste this year. My hubby is the muscles and brain behind the design of this garden. He’s a landscaping artist! In this area we are growing carrots, parsnips, collards, ground cherries, kale, peas, basil, eggplant, bell peppers, pole beans, cucumbers, mustard greens, arugula, radishes, mesclun mix, raspberries, and just out of the frame, rhubarb and some herbs.

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In the rest of the yard so many flowers are in bloom or have just finished blooming. I love all the natives and the easy growing flowers like purple cone flowers and liatris. I’ve said since I moved here that I won’t have a flower that is not tough enough to withstand a sub-zero winter. If it wants to be in my garden, it has to be tough. I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve tried out that just didn’t have what it takes to withstand the cold and less than hospitable conditions here. I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere….

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Farewell, My Son

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Our nest is empty. That reality seems so very final. I knew I would face this moment at some point, but it happened “slowly and then all at once,” as John Green says. After living with us for about a year after college, my youngest son has taken a job in the big city and moved out of our house. I miss him. I feel at once bereft and relieved, worried and proud, worn out and hopeful. You see, he’s my baby, my last baby, and I was reluctant to let him go. He was always the child who held on tight. When his brother dropped my hand and ran into the room full of kids for his first day of preschool, my youngest used to tell his dad and me he wanted to live with us forever.

I see a parallel in his time here and my oldest son’s time at home after college. I wrote of his time with me in The Gift of Time. I had each of them for about a year after college until they decided on a course of action for their lives. I’m not sad my youngest boy has started his own life; I just wish there were a way to see him more often, both of them actually. Giving up mothering has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even though I know I’m not giving it up entirely and that they still need me, they need me differently now.

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My youngest son is not really much different from the boy he was growing up. He is still sweet, sensitive, and cautious, but he is also smart, tenacious, and determined. He goes after what he wants and rarely lets anyone or anything interfere with his goals. Over the years I saw evidence of his tenacity and determination when he played soccer. He never reached the level of play he wanted to when he was in high school, but I think that leftover hunger to reach his goals has served him well in teaching him to persevere, even in the face of obstacles.
I also see much of the same loyal and caring little boy his dad and I raised in his friendships, many of which he formed when we first moved from Florida to Wisconsin. He still is friends with the same group of boys he grew up with, but he also made some new friends in Minneapolis where he lives now, both in college and at places where he worked. Friends have always meant the world to him, even when he was three years old. Despite his affection for his friends, he is still an introvert, who needs quiet and time alone to recharge his batteries. And sleep. He needs sleep. Even when he was a little guy, he would go to his room to “have a rest.” That was code for some “me time” and, despite his assurances to the contrary back then, nap time.

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He spent his early years as a superhero, a cowboy, a fireman, and an intrepid explorer,
believing all the while in his invincibility. When our children are little, we don’t always appreciate the time when they are young, when we are their whole world and can make everything good and peaceful for them. It’s exhausting and difficult and wonderful. Often we say things like, “I can’t wait until he’s older so I won’t have to __________(Insert whatever you like here).” But really, the time they are little passes so quickly, quicker than I ever imagined. That time of mothering my babies was  an awesome responsibility but one I miss.

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At times I’ve wanted to hold on to my baby, (like I have recently). From the moment he was able to smile, he did and has been bent on happiness ever since. I miss his impish charm and lightning smile, his eyes crinkled up by dimpled cheeks, but the days when his dad and I were his whole world are over, and that’s how it should be. His world is expanding exponentially. I think one of the ways parents can know they’ve done a good job raising their babies is that their babies are ready to fly. That’s what both my boys have done. They were ready and they have flown. My youngest has big plans for his life, and I wish him everything good and wonderful and beautiful. Although the mom in me misses my little boy, I’m so proud of the man he has become.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Folks

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When I was a little girl, I lived in a small town in Georgia. Everyone who lived there knew their neighbors. Not just the ones right next door, but up and down each street. It was a homey place to grow up in, a safe place where people looked out for one another and one anothers’ kids.

My extended family has lived in the same area of Georgia for generations. We were a settled bunch with family traditions. Every Sunday while my parents were still married, we, along with cousins, went to my Grandmother’s house after church to eat Sunday dinner. We stayed a good long time, longer than I wanted to sit and talk like the adults did, so I would entertain myself as best I could since my brother and sister rarely wanted to play with their baby sister.

When I was really young, a little boy named Johnny lived just two houses down the street from my grandmother’s house. In fact, I liked him so much I named one of my kittens(one of the many) after him. The house he lived in was not like mine. It had dirt floors, and the screen door on the front entry could be lifted up so two little kids could step over the base and enter without ever opening the door. I thought that was so cool and wished my house had such a wonderful door. I’m not sure what happened to Johnny. He moved when I was still pretty young. But I do remember my mom and grandmother talking between themselves when they thought I wouldn’t hear about how letting me go play with him might not be a good idea. I didn’t understand why.

I understand now, however. When children are little, they don’t see poverty or skin color, or socioeconomic status. They only see people. I knew Johnny was fun to play with. That’s all that mattered. What his position in society was didn’t matter at all. When I taught the book To Kill a Mockingbird to my sophomores, I often remembered Johnny, especially when Scout tells Jem, “I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks.” Scout was still too innocent to understand why Jem thought there were different kinds of people in the world. Of course he was no longer innocent after seeing what happened to Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused and convicted of raping a white woman. Jem understood what Scout didn’t yet, that there was injustice in the world.

Another thing that struck me when I taught that book was the difference between how I see the world and how my students did. When we studied that book I had to explain racism and Jim Crow laws to them even when they had learned about it in history class. Often as we read about how some people treated Tom Robinson or how they treated his wife or any other unjust incident in the book, they would ask me, “How could anybody treat others that way?” My heart would break when I explained, but at the same time I rejoiced that they saw no reason to treat anyone of a different race or sex or socioeconomic status differently. I am grateful kids don’t view others the way adults do that they haven’t yet lost their faith in humanity.

Scout Finch

We learn prejudice in all its forms. We learn how to treat people from our elders and from those we associate with. Sometimes we treat others poorly because we bow to peer pressure. Sometimes we are afraid of what treating someone differently might say about us. Whatever the reason, we don’t live up to “the better angels of our nature.” Children are not prejudiced. Somewhere along the way they learn to be. But we don’t have to remain that way.

I am guilty of treating others poorly, of making my prejudice known. One of the biggest regrets in my life is that one of my best friends in college, who was overjoyed at marrying the love of her life, felt she couldn’t tell me about him or her marriage because she was marrying an African American man. She didn’t know how I would react. That said volumes, not about her, but about me. To this day I am embarrassed about that, but her telling me had a profound impact on my life. I woke me up to my own prejudice and made me examine the way I thought, which I’m happy about.

When I married my husband, I also married the Marine Corps, a color blind society if ever there was one. I learned to get along with people from all over the United States and all over the world: the Philippines, England, Mexico, Honduras, Haiti. Everywhere. We lived in many different states, but the one thing that united all of us was that we were living a military life. Race didn’t matter. Neither did anything else. We endured together.

When I was becoming certified to teach, I started out in the public schools in Florida and even did some practicum work at a public high school in Milledgeville, Georgia. I taught all kinds of kids, white and black and brown, from every background imaginable. I started my teaching career at the largest population school in Wisconsin and taught at a small rural school in the middle of Wisconsin. Even here I have taught white kids, black kids, Hmong kids, Hispanic kids, and kids from other countries. The one thing they all have in common is being young men and women who want to be successful and to be taken seriously by adults. Race, socioeconomic background didn’t matter. They wanted me to treat them fairly and not to abandon them when they needed someone to talk to. They wanted praise when they succeeded and help when they failed. Isn’t that what we all want?

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I have learned much in the course of my life which has humbled me. Mostly what I’ve learned is that all people, no matter where they come from, are children of God and should be treated with respect. I haven’t always done that, but I try to. I don’t have all the answers to the terrible things happening in our country right now. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write about this topic because I feel overwhelmed and sad and confused, and I’m sure someone will not like what I’ve said. I don’t want to be part of the controversy or take away from anyone’s loss. Like everyone else struggling to understand it all, I’m just trying my best to make sense of what feels senseless and wrong and tragic.

We need to discuss so much concerning race relations, but those conversations are hard. They are hard to have even with our friends. No one wants to be called a racist, so often people don’t have the hard conversations to understand. We become defensive  rather than understanding. I’ve never even talked about race with my college friend, but I’m sure she has a lot to tell me and much I need to hear about her children and how  they’ve been treated and how her husband has been treated.

In these discussions I’m afraid we won’t hear what needs to be heard because people are so entrenched in who we think we are, the outer trappings of our identities rather than the inner workings of our hearts. About six or seven years ago I was talking to Pastor Jim, a former pastor at my church about an unrelated concern, but he told me something that has stuck with me ever since, and I often use it as a guide to figuring out what to do in difficult situations. I think it applies to this particular time and issue. He said,” If we err, shouldn’t we err on the side of love?” Indeed.

If we could get to know our neighbors, not the ones we live right next door to but the ones we ordinarily wouldn’t talk to, maybe we could make a difference. If we could see each other with the eyes of a child, maybe we would think, like Scout did, that “There’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Our skin color doesn’t matter. How much money we make, or don’t make, doesn’t matter. Our ethnicity doesn’t matter. Those things give us character, but they aren’t who we are. Who are we without those things? Who are you? Who am I? All of us deserve dignity and respect. All of us deserve to be heard. All of us deserve to be safe.

I am challenging myself this week to do something small, something manageable that might make a difference. Many small things add up to something big if enough people do them. When you go out into the world this week, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Make a friend. Smile at the person next to you in line at the grocery store. Pay for someone’s coffee or food at the drive through. Be a blessing to someone in some way. We cannot allow this crisis to divide the good people of this country. Abraham Lincoln in his First Inaugural Address said this about anther moment in time that nearly destroyed our country: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Let’s make an effort to see each other as neighbors and take care of each other as such. Let’s also make our neighborhoods homey places again where nothing matters but being together, where folks are just folks.

Proud American Moment

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Over the last few days I’ve heard stories on the radio and on Facebook of people sharing their proud moments of being an American. Not a day goes by that I don’t experience more than one moment like that, but I wanted to share one moment worth remembering. Twenty five years ago today I was in California with a six month old baby, waiting to hear whether my husband was still alive. My husband was part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit that invaded Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.

You must remember that back then, only 25 years ago, no internet and no cell phones existed. When we needed to communicate, we exchanged letters. We had never heard the term “snail mail.” It was just mail to us, and it was vitally important. I wrote to Bruce and he wrote back, often our letters were delayed or later ones arrived before the first ones did which resulted in a confusing message. But we didn’t care as long as we heard from one another. I sent pictures of our growing baby boy, and he asked all kinds of questions. We only talked on the phone when he was in port, and then only for a short time because the calls cost so  much money. Cable news had only one 24 hour news service then also, CNN, which I watched ALL the time for any news to indicate what was happening in Kuwait or even any word of where our Marines were.

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Throughout that ordeal of his being at war, the image that kept scrolling through my mind was Bruce standing on the deck of a harbor taxi in Singapore getting smaller and smaller as the boat took him back to his ship and far away from me. I clung to that memory and to our time together in Singapore, the last time we were together before the invasion of Iraq.

When word came that the Marines were landing an invasion force on the beaches of Kuwait, I knew Bruce was involved. Like the rest of the world I had no idea the plan was to lure Saddam Hussein’s forces toward the coast so the Allies could cut off their retreat to Iraq. To do that they had to make it appear  the Marines were invading via the beaches of Kuwait. Bruce flew a transport helicopter. I prayed for his safety and waited.

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Waiting is what military spouses do. We become very good at compartmentalizing our lives, in taking care of the business of living without ever forgetting our loved ones serving on the front lines or training to serve. We carry on. It’s what our lives were and still are in my case. We wait for our men to come home,and that’s just what my Marine did. In April after ten months of deployment, Bruce and the rest of the Marines finally came home. His squadron was the last to return home after the war and were nearly forgotten in the news coverage, but not in our hearts. On that day, hundreds of family members and friends gathered on the flight line to greet our Marines as they flew in from San Diego to MCAS Tustin.

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On this Independence day of 2016, I am very proud to remember a time in my life when time and freedom seemed more precious to me than at any other. We should always remember that freedom is not free, that others in this world suffer oppression  and that men like my husband, and my son, are willing to sacrifice their time and their lives to protect our freedom. Freedom is sacred. I am proud to be an American always, but today, when I remember what my husband and many more like him all over the world came together to do, to free the people of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, I am especially proud of them and that I was even a small part of that time in history.

Gratitude

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The past seven and a half years have been both the longest and the shortest years I can remember. My husband lost his job in early February of 2009. Our lives have changed drastically over the years since then, but we had no idea the lessons we would learn over those intervening years. Off and on since then he has worked various jobs and has served in the Army Reserve to make ends meet. I’ve worked different jobs too. When I lost my teaching job in August of 2010, I was lucky enough to land one as the Writing Coach for the same school for another year, then lost that job  after the money for that position from the federal government dried up. Since then I worked at two other schools. For many reasons too numerous to mention in this post, I just left what I hope is my last job teaching high school English.

Why am I telling you all this now? With time and some perspective I’ve come to understand some important lessons in perseverance, hope, and gratitude from this very difficult time in my family’s life. If anyone else is going through hard economic times, I hope our struggle will give you hope and let you know you are not alone.

You see, our survival was a sort of “loaves and fishes” story. Honestly, when we look back at what happened to us, we marvel that we kept our home, that we managed to keep our kids in college during the recession.  They had to grow up and take on a lot more responsibility than I ever wanted them to, but I understand now that they are better for having done so. I worried and cried and wondered how we would survive, but we did. We pared down every expense we possibly could during those years and still practice austerity to a certain degree. In fact, during the 2014-2015 winter, the coldest one in years here in the Midwest, we couldn’t afford to repair our heater. I hauled wood in my pajamas, snowboots, and parka and endured the month alone, while my husband was at training in North Carolina. I woke often to temperatures in the house in the 50s, and I’m a Southerner! That was a hard winter, a metaphor really, for the whole seven years.

During our “lost decade” we decided one thing we couldn’t and didn’t want to change was the amount of money we gave to our church. We prayed about that decision and others. We prayed, and prayed some more for God to give us guidance and help, but what I found so difficult was to thank God for all that we still had. Trusting God was the hardest thing both my husband and I had to learn during these last seven years. Learning to let God take care of us when we no longer could make sense of what was  happening was difficult for us and is something we still struggle with.  When we look back at what we endured, however, the only answer to how we survived that makes any sense is God provided. Nothing else explains how we made our money last from paycheck to paycheck and how our family stayed together.

What made the blow of my husband losing his job and not being able to find another one so difficult was that we never thought we would be in that position. He was a very successful salesman, but we didn’t rely on his success. I worked too. We had done everything right. We saved the maximum for our retirement, even when I complained that we weren’t having much fun. We don’t take extravagant vacations. We saved money in an emergency fund, drove our cars forever. I don’t get manicures, pedicures, or color treatments for my hair. We wait for sales to shop. We don’t have “toys” like a boat or snowmobiles or anything like that. Like so many others who lost their jobs and livelihoods we are just average Americans trying to make a good life for our family.

Luckily, when my husband got his notice he had been “let go,” (a euphemistic term for what actually happens to someone) he also received a severance from his company, which we were extremely careful with, especially in light of the thousands of layoffs early in the first year of the recession. For two long years he searched for any job he could find.  The problem was that millions of other men and women also searched for jobs that no longer existed. Millions were scared. Millions still are. We all still bear the scars and the trauma of living with that much uncertainty for that long. We still wait for bad news because it came so often. We will never be the same, and many of us who had never been in this position before were and are too proud to explain that we don’t have the money to do  or buy what, to others, seems negligible. If you are reading this post and know someone who lost their livelihood in this recession, keep in touch with them. Let them know you care and would like to see them. That sort of connection means the world. Even though my husband is still working, and before I gave my notice this year, I was also working, we are making far less than what we once did. Reduced wages in this country are a very real problem.

My family are not the only people who went through the trauma of job loss and the anxiety that accompanies such an event. The Great Recession changed us, but it changed millions of Americans.

My hubby and I have a deep appreciation for each other, for our family, for God. We realize how little truly matters in this life, how superfluous our possessions are but how much each other and our relationships matter. What we neglected was our relationship to others simply because keeping up with others was difficult with our noses to the grindstone and our thought processes taken up by survival. Even now we no longer go out to dinner or have drinks with friends very often, mostly because we developed the habit of cooking our own food since it was far cheaper to do so. We didn’t have (and still don’t) the money to spend out on the town with friends, so we avoided going out instead of trying to explain our lack of money.  I regret that I didn’t keep my friends closer while we were so afraid. I miss them. These years have been a lonely time, but hardship brought my husband and me closer to each other. When you may lose everything but each other, that relationship becomes paramount. I hope my friends understand.

When I was thinking of how I would write this post to explain what this time in our lives was like, I realized I couldn’t. No one who hasn’t weathered that kind of storm can possibly know how it felt, and I really hope others don’t find out. What I could do, however, is share a song with you, one I first learned about through my brother. It is a song called “Gratitude” that speaks of learning to be grateful even in the midst of hardship. Quite a while ago he told me about the Christian artist, Nichole Nordeman who wrote this song. She is a wonderful songwriter, and this song comes from her album Woven and Spun. I have always loved the tune and the words, but not until my family went through The Great Recession, did I understand the words’ deeper meaning.

My hubby and I are not out of the woods yet, but we see a glimmer of light in the distance. It is now time to take a deep breath and give thanks for all we have, all God has given us, and reconnect with our friends. It has taken us nearly eight years to climb out of the hole we found ourselves in, but I think our luck is changing. “We are blessed beyond what we could ever dream in abundance or in need,” and I’m so very grateful.

Stella’s Buck

Whitetail deer buck close-up head shot.

Whitetail deer buck close-up head shot. Photo from The Hunting Broker http://www.thehuntingbroker.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/whitetail.jpg

This morning at just past 6:30 Wisconsin’s gun deer season opened. I’m not sure anyone who is not from a part of the country where people hunt could understand the excitement hunters feel this time of year. My students, both girls and boys, were heading off to the woods with their families and friends to enjoy the outdoors and the camaraderie of pitting their wits against their prey. They mostly want the bragging rights of killing a big trophy deer, but many of them put food on their families’ tables with the deer they kill. Hunting is not just an activity here in Wisconsin; it’s a tradition families share that brings them closer together without the distractions of the modern world to interfere.

My husband decided not to hunt this year, so we had the luxury of waking up late, at nearly seven o’clock. Usually during hunting season gun shots wake us up, but this year we heard none. I’m not sure why the hubby decided not to hunt. Maybe he felt bad about the deer he shot two years ago. That’s the last time he ventured out. She was a doe with a yearling, obviously hers. When he took the first shot, he missed her, but neither she nor the yearling ran away. When he took the second shot, he dropped her on the spot. The yearling only ran about a hundred yards away. Bruce couldn’t bring himself to shoot the youngster which finally ran off when Bruce went out to”process” the doe. It was kind of sad. He talked about that kill for a while but in a wistful way.

Later that year in autumn a young buck made our backyard his home. He was a big deer, tall and strong, but obviously young. We saw him often on the perimeter of our property, but he ventured closer each time he appeared, finally coming into our yard. Our Lab Stella believes it her mission to keep our property deer free. She loves seeing deer in our yard, then running full-speed to chase them off the property. For her it is great fun. One day I let her out to chase away this big, young buck I mentioned. She was appropriately fierce, but the buck stood his ground though not in a defiant way. He was curious about Stella. When she ran out barking at him, he put his head down and took a couple of steps in her direction. Unnerved, she ran a few yards away and barked again, her hackles raised. The buck stayed put. They stared each other down for a few moments before Stella lost her nerve and came inside. This same scenario repeated a few more times when this buck visited our yard. Then we didn’t see him for a long time.

This morning when I looked out the window of my bedroom, I saw a big eight point buck grazing on the grass next to the stream in our back yard. He was quite at home.

“Do you think that’s Stella’s deer?” I asked Bruce.

He got out of bed to take a look. “I doubt it. That deer is really big.”

We let Stella out the front door so she wouldn’t see the buck and he wouldn’t see her. We fed her, poured ourselves some coffee, then watched him graze and amble through the back yard only about fifty feet away from the windows. He was magnificent with a big basket of a rack, antlers nearly white in the early light.

When he had nearly reached the treeline, we pointed him out to Stella. Since not many deer have been wandering through our property of late, she had almost forgotten about them. Once we showed him to her, however, she growled and was ready to run, stamping and whining at the door. Bruce opened the sliding glass door. Stella sprinted toward the deer, clearing the steps to the backyard in one leap. She barked as she ran. The buck raised his head. He didn’t move. He didn’t startle. He looked as though he recognized her. She skidded to a stop, turned around with a glance and a token growl over her shoulder, then trotted back to the porch.

“That’s him,” said Bruce.

I watched the buck walked toward the power lines and marveled at his power and grace. I liked that this beautiful creature was still with us, still walking the property that he believes is his, still trying to make friends with a prickly creature who wants nothing to do with a deer who isn’t afraid of her. I think Bruce regretted not having a hunting license this morning, but I’m glad he didn’t. If that was Stella’s buck–and I hope it was–I hope he survives this year’s gun deer season. I would like to see him again.

Ada Lovelace: Mathematical Visionary

 

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Google’s tribute to Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, and it does, mostly. I’m sure I’m not alone in my struggle to learn the nearly constant changes in technology I’m supposed to apply in both my work as a teacher and also my work as a writer. I must admit part of the problem is I’m reluctant, not because it intimidates me though sometimes it does, but also because I’m tired of change. Society lacks a human connection and a connection to the natural world these days, and technology is making that lack more pronounced. I resist the indoor/sedentary lifestyle that has been imposed on me to become and remain connected to the world through technology. The paradox of this dilemma is that through technology I am more connected to people and places far away from me  than I ever could have imagined 20 years ago, but that connection comes at a cost of being disconnected to physical reality. Technology is more than ever a matter of the mind in much the same way writing is.

More of my life than ever is spent at a desk or sitting with a laptop warming my thighs as I grade papers, write blog posts (though I’ve done precious little of that lately) or work on my novel. Seldom do I drop everything and walk outdoors to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn or call a friend or better yet, meet a friend for a walk amongst the brilliant colors of autumn or for coffee outdoors. This school year I’ve tried to balance the demands of a demanding job, to satisfy my creative calling, and to learn the technology skills I need to use to do both well, but I also don’t want to neglect the part of me that requires the sun on my face and the feel of stretching my legs on a long walk. More on that in another post.

Who I would like to pay tribute to here is a woman for whom creativity and poetry was mathematical–seems a contradiction of terms to me because I’m language oriented, but I understand the elegance of math, just not the mechanics of it. I wish I did. I know I would have a far greater appreciation of the world and the workings of minds like Alan Turing’s, the man credited with breaking the Enigma code, or Ada Lovelace’s, the first computer programmer.

Ada King, Countess of Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the Romantic poet, George, Lord Byron, and his wife, Anne Isabella Noel. Theirs was a stormy relationship and one that inspired Ada’s mother to foster in her a love of logic and math  to prevent her from developing what Anne Isabella Noel regarded as the insanity (read poetry here) Ada’s father suffered. Despite her mother’s influence, Ada was fascinated with her father even though he left her mother and her when she was only a month old and died in Greece when she was only eight years old. Perhaps the influence of his reputation as a passionate, free thinking poet rubbed off on her after all or was handed down in her DNA. Whatever the reason, Ada became a mathematician who approached her subject using, to quote her, “poetical science.” She described herself as an Analyst and a Metaphysician.” I believe she had the same free-thinking tendencies, the creative vision, if you will, her father had and was able to make connections no one else had done because of those tendencies.

Her mathematical talents led her to begin a working relationship and friendship with the brilliant British mathematician Charles Babbage, working in particular with him on his Analytical Engine. Babbage called her his “enchantress of numbers.” After she translated an article about the engine written by an Italian military engineer, Luigi Menebrea, Lovelace added her own extensive notes that she called simply Notes.

The significance of Notes is that many consider it to contain the first computer program, (and here’s where the description of it escapes me) an algorithm that was to be carried out by a machine. Ada Lovelace’s remarkable accomplishment took place in the 1840s. Over 150 years later I struggle to understand basic computer coding to deal with my blogging program or my interactions on the web for my technological teaching needs, but I appreciate the intelligence that went into making those technologies possible. Her research and Notes along with Babbage’s work on the actual hardware paved the way for the work of Alan Turing and others of the Bletchly Park mathematicians who broke the code of the Enigma machine. Their successful breaking of the code is credited with saving Britain and, very possibly, the world from Nazi Germany and Japan. If you extend that credit, we would have to also thank Lovelace’s mother and Lord Byron’s the scoundrel ways for inspiring Lovelace’s mother to raise her to become a clear-eyed, logical but creative thinker!

Tomorrow is Ada Lovelace Day, a day celebrated world-wide to honor the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. My hat goes off to the women like Ada Lovelace who have made our world what it is and have made technology to ease our handling of information. I just wish I were better able to understand the complexities of how it all works. I also wish there were a way to handle the new tasks created by technology. Wait, no I don’t. I love my world of language and the images and emotions it conjures. I’ll leave it to those women (and men) who make it possible for me to reach out to the world with my words. Tomorrow, October 13, I’ll raise a glass to the women who have made this blog possible through technology! Here’s to you Ada Lovelace and your poetical science!

 

I Belong to Two Places

A couple of years ago I read a book that has stuck with me, The Conditions of Love by Dale M. Kushner. As I read, I dog-eared pages and underlined passages even though my copy is a hardcover, not a paperback. I couldn’t help myself. It’s that good. Each time I go back to the book, I discover something else that makes me think or appreciate Dale’s writing. As I was thumbing through it not long ago, one line in particular gave me pause, and I’ve thought repeatedly of it since. Here it is: “To learn is to forget, the events of one life crowding out the events of the next.” If that is true, what does it mean to my life? How does that affect who I am? Does it change my identity as a person? A writer? A teacher?

Change is difficult because we have a  tendency to hold onto what we know out of fear or the desire for comfort, but learning requires that we step out of our comfort zones to experience something new, and that can be scary but also exciting and liberating. Since I’ve lived in the Midwest, I’ve felt myself to be on the fringes of society at times, not able to fully understand or participate in the culture here because it is different from what I grew up with and identify with, but also because I don’t want to lose my identity as a Southerner. Just the idea of being any less Southern made me rebel against embracing the Midwest, yet I also pride myself on being willing to experience new things, on learning. I think of myself as an educated woman. I like the challenge of learning something new, but if I refused to change, or to embrace this place, every bit my home as the place I grew up in, what does that say about me?

If I learn how to be a Midwesterner, do I have to forget about being a Southerner? Perhaps, but I don’t like to think of it that way. I prefer to think of it as change. I’ve changed to live here, and the most noticeable way is how I talk. My speech no longer sounds like that of my friends down in Georgia; my vowels are less rounded. I’ve learned to endure the cold, sort of. I complain when it gets humid here, even though at times I still miss the sticky air of Georgia. Heck, two winters ago I was alone the entire month of January in 40 below temperatures with a poorly working furnace and had to shovel LOTS of snow, and stoke the fireplace to help heat the house without my Midwesterner husband around. If that’s not Midwestern, I don’t know what is. In fact, lately people have acted surprised when they find out I’m from the South. Lawd have mercy, I need a trip home to get my drawl back!

Do those things mean I have “forgotten” some of what makes me a Southerner? Maybe. I can hear my Southern friends blessing my heart right now.

Yes, I’ve changed, but the South will always be a part of me. When I write, I write about the South. I can’t help it. The South bubbles up out of me when I put pen to paper or at least hands to keyboard. And that’s when I hear the cadence of my people, no matter that I live so far north of the Mason-Dixon line that I might as well be in Canada. Though I’ve become accustomed to the fast flat vowels of the North, they still seem foreign to me because when I go home and hear a sweet southern drawl or hear my niece and nephew say yes ma’am or no ma’am to me, I fall into that drawl like I never left. I still make tea, though no longer sweet, but flavored with mint. I still love pimiento cheese, fried chicken, The Masters, and good sea food. I still long for the smell of magnolia blossoms and tea olive in the spring; UGA football in the fall, even if Larry Munson no longer calls the games; the occasional 75 degree day in winter; being close enough to the ocean to drive there for a weekend; and having everyone ask after your mama. I know these are only surface traits, but they represent the culture that Southerners hold dear. What keeps me feeling connected to the South is going back and being enfolded into family and friends as though I never left. The open hearts of the people, my people, are what keep me longing for the South.

What keeps me here then? Why don’t I return to my roots? That’s a question I’ve pondered lately. The answer I’ve come to is that I love what my husband and I have built here. I love my home here, my friends, my colleagues and my students, my writing friends, my church, my community. I became a teacher here, built my reputation on my own. I became a writer here and have a community of writers who support me. I’ve built a life here that would be hard to walk away from even though I feel the pull of the South. I look out at the gardens I’ve labored over, the house I see my husbands handiwork in, the town where I raised my children, the parks they played in, the rivers and lakes we swim in, the sunrises and sunsets we’ve seen, the trees we’ve planted that have grown so tall, the farm fields, the forests. Could I leave this place? This place I’ve come to love?

I have wondered if I would ever feel like I belonged here in the Midwest, and I finally feel like I do. Is it because I was finally willing to? Maybe. People here have welcomed me in their midst and I love them for that. But if I have to forget where I came from to fit in or belong, I don’t think I can. Being southern is part of my identity. I can’t separate myself from that part of me any more than Churchill Downs can separate itself from horse racing, mint juleps, or big fancy hats. I think what Dale Kushner meant is that to fully embrace where you are you have to be present in the moment. I’ve tried to do that, even though at times I long for my people and the place I’m from, the familiarity of home and the love of family. What I’ve come to understand is that I belong to two places now: the Midwest and the South, both lands  whose features have a way of becoming a part of your identity and whose people have the same generous hearts. Perhaps I’ll move back “home” one day. I want to, one day. But when I do, I know I’ll miss the Midwest, my other “home.”