Archives for posts with tag: Marriage

My husband and I are on vacation on the Oregon Coast, just the two of us. We are having a marvelous time. We’ve hiked on the beach, in the forest, and along cliffs above the coastline. It is just the break we needed. An ideal vacation in an idyllic location.
It only makes sense that 100 percent of every moment of the vacation should be positively perfect, right?

If you’ve ever traveled or even lived for more than one minute, you know this is untrue.

It seems that during nearly everyone of our vacations, I am irritated with someone in my family, including myself.  Yesterday, I had hiked seven miles along the coast. We drove to little towns and through amazing farmland. I was tired and in need of getting out of the sun. We got back to our hotel on the beach. If we hadn’t already made plans to eat on the picnic table overlooking the beach near our room, I would have changed into my nightgown. My husband said, “Hey, let’s go fly a kite!”

I am a person of inertia. Once I am at rest, I have trouble changing gears. The day before, John had convinced me to go out at night to see the sunset after I’d already collapsed for the day. I got myself going and was so glad that I did. So in the spirit of being a good sport, I said, “Okay”, put on my shoes, and followed him to the beach. My husband asked me to hold the kite while he walked away, un-spooling the kite string. As he was getting farther and farther away, drowned out by the sound of the ocean, I thought, “What does he want me to do? What is HE doing?”

I have flown kites in my day. He was doing it “wrong”. The first attempt failed. Then I asked him, “What do you want me to do?” He explained the game plan. Communication, yes! Now we had a plan. I was game, so I thought, despite the fact that he was doing it “wrong”. I’m not unreasonable. The kite flying was his idea. That made him in charge and me, the helper.

We made our second attempt and it failed. Then I did something I rarely do. I accepted that I was too cranky. I didn’t tell myself, “You are being silly. It’s just a kite. You have no reason to be annoyed.” I told my husband, “Honey, I’m tired. I’m going to go rest for awhile.”

I rested for about a half hour and then we started to make a beautiful fresh seafood dinner. When I brought the food outside, I saw the kite flying, tied to the arm of a patio chair. We had a wonderful dinner. I don’t think John even knew that I was getting cranky. I let me be me, I didn’t invalidate my feelings, and gave myself the space I needed to return to being an excellent traveling companion.

This may seem like a small thing but I know that small irritations can turn into a bad day and bad behavior on my part. Invalidation, makes emotion bigger, rather than smaller. All emotions are understandable even if we don’t like them.

I know that my life is going to contain upsets, big and small. Sometimes I will make things better, sometimes I will  make them worse, and sometimes, nothing I do will change anything. But I am grateful that yesterday, I was able to take a step away from my expectation of perfection and just gave my imperfect self what I needed.

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We all know people who are hard to contact. They don’t return phone calls, emails, or texts on a consistent basis. My husband is one of those people. It’s kind of a joke in our extended network of family and friends. He’s not mean or thoughtless. He just gets wrapped up in what he is doing at the time and has trouble shifting gears. To be fair, he has gotten much more reliable about returning text messages, though it is not unusual for him to text me a question, my immediately answer it, and then my not hear from him again for quite some time.

Consequently, I don’t communicate with him as much as I’d like to when he’s not home. It’s not particularly effective or satisfying. But I do know that if I REALLY need to contact him at work, if the situation is urgent, I can do it. We have a system. I text him, call his cell phone, and call his office desk phone, one right after the other. Then he knows that he needs to drop what he is doing and to contact me. I don’t do this often, in fact, it’s been years and I don’t even remember the reason I last engaged the Bat phone/text/land line sequence.

John is in southern Utah with his step-dad, camping and backpacking. They’ve been planning the trip for a long time. It is a 10 day long trip, which is slightly longer than our family vacations. They on Saturday of last week. They will return on Tuesday of next week. They are seeing incredible country. John is texting photos to me every day as well as “I miss you” and “I love you” texts. I’ve spoken to him twice by phone. It’s not as if we are not communicating and in fact, this is much more frequent technology-supported communication than we typically exchange. But I can’t rely on being able to contact him at any time. Phone reception is spotty.

I don’t know exactly why but since the day he has left, our daughter has been having a very hard time, and shall we say, she is not suffering in silence. I feel like I am alone in some kind of parenting Hell. We did have a brief texting conversation this morning. He’d spoken to her yesterday and was worried about her, based on the conversation they’d had. I’ve been in a tricky position of wanting him to enjoy his trip but at the same time, I need support and he is my husband. I tried to need less than I did and as usually is the case, this strategy does not work well and I end up getting needier than I was in the first place. This morning, in a texting conversation I told him that I would not agree to him being way and unreachable for so long again. It was not my plan to tell him this. That’s just going to make him worry and detract from his trip. People, I am a work in progress. I will keep trying.

Sometimes being alone is a beautiful and peaceful place. Sometimes it’s just lonely.

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

When I was a little girl, we made May baskets at school, which were usually a cone made out of construction paper with a paper strip looped on the back as a hanger. Each year, I took them home, filled them with flowers from the yard, and carefully walked to the neighbor’s house. As I recall, I mostly walked to the same neighbor’s house, Myrtle Anderson’s, hung the basket on her door knob, knocked, and then ran away. They were not so random acts of kindness.

I have long enjoyed giving gifts to people. I notice the things that people like over the course of the year and file it away in my mind for future gift reference. Sometimes I give people gifts “just because”. When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who was often awkward about accepting gifts from me. They were small things, really. I knew that he liked to play cards so when I took a ceramics class and made him a mug decorated with a heart, a club, a spade, and a diamond. It was just one of the things that I made. The rest I kept for myself. When I asked him when his birthday was, he wouldn’t tell me. It was one of many arguments that he and I had over seemingly really silly things. He actually told me that I didn’t argue enough. Anyone who knew me when I was in my early adulthood would appreciate the uniqueness of this characterization. He was not comfortable with affection or gifts. When he told me that he thought we should break up, I didn’t argue. I agreed.

The following fall, I met the man who would become my husband. As I’ve written in the past, John was dating someone else at the time and in the process of a somewhat messy break up due to the fact that his girlfriend was out of the country for two years, on a religious mission. They communicated by letter. Their relationship had been in poor shape when she left.

John and I started dating the following spring. Our first kiss was on April 25th, 1988. I decided to make a May Day basket for him. I went to the University Bookstore and bought two colors of paper. (Hubby tells me now that he thought I used blue and green. I don’t remember.) I carefully measured and drew lines on the paper as a guide for cutting. I wove the strips into a basket; I remember it being surprisingly large. I made a handle for it and filled it with tulips.

I was excited when I made the gift as I often am when I am making something for someone I love. There is an enthusiasm full of hope and energy. But I was also nervous that he wouldn’t like the gift or would feel that it was “too much”, that I was “too much”.

I walked into his apartment with it. I greeted him with, “Happy May Day!” He smiled, “Thank you, those are beautiful.” Then he gave me a kiss. In short, he acted as if I had given him a somewhat random act of kindness that he very much appreciated. He acted like giving a gift to your boyfriend was a normal and healthy thing to do. This is when I learned that he could accept my love. I hoped that it would last for a long long time.

John is leaving tomorrow for an eagerly awaited ten day trip to the canyon lands of Utah. He is traveling with his stepfather, Don. They will have a marvelous time and I am very happy for him. They have not taken a trip, just the two of them, since 1993 when they went to Tanzania together.

I woke up this morning, missing him even though he hasn’t yet left. When I noticed that it is May 1st, I thought back to the basket and the flowers. So as part of my walk, I stopped at the Thriftway and picked up six bunches of locally grown tulips. When I gave them to him, he thanked me and remembered our first May Day together.

May 1st means a lot of things. To some it is just the first day of May. To others, it marks the day of a birth or a death. To others, it is a time to advocate for workers. All of these things are true. To me, it marks the newness of spring and the joyful discovery of love given freely and freely returned.

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During one of my recent mind adventures, my memory took me back to the old 1960’s television show, The Flying Nun. It starred Sally Field as Sister Bertrille and took place at a convent on Puerto Rico. Due to her small size, the frequent winds, and her cornette (a particular style of nun hat), she could fly, hence the title of the show. After my mind took me to this show, my fingers took me to Wikipedia.

Sister Bertrille could be relied upon to solve any problem that came her way by her ability to catch a passing breeze and fly.

That sentence gave me a good chuckle and I thought, “How could the show’s writers sustain this premise?”

Plot 1: The convent eagerly awaits a visit from the Bishop. After an albatross makes off with the his miter, Sister Bertrille hitches a ride on a gust and saves the day by retrieving it.

Plot 2: Fire breaks out in the convent campanile. After accidentally breaking the tallest ladder in town, Sister Bertrille uses her flying power to reach the fire and put out the blaze.

Plot 3: A little girl’s kitten is stuck in a tree! The fire ladder is still broken. Sister Bertrille flies to the top and saves the day!

Plot 4: Run away kite!

See, not sustainable. Nonetheless, the series lasted two seasons. How did they do it? Also, how did her cornette stay on?

A fictional life needs substance to sustain itself. It can’t be utterly ridiculous.

A real life needs so much more.

Once upon a time, my blog was often humorous. Once upon a time, my blog was mostly about cancer. My blog has changed and my needs have evolved. My husband asked me yesterday, “Do you still think about cancer every day?” I told him, “yes” and I have thought about it every day since May 25th 2012. I mean this literally. Every day.

But thinking about cancer and being actively treated for cancer are different. I think back to what I needed to do during my active treatment and I can’t believe it. The extra work I had to cram into my schedule in order to take time off for surgeries, the number of surgeries, the telling people or not telling people about my health. The changing landscape of my body. The changing energy levels. The changing brain. The major unknowns about even the near future. One of the ways I dealt with the stress and fear with laughing at the ridiculousness of it. That is a coping strategy that is useful to me, it sustains me.

I think about sustainability and capacity a great deal. I want to be a healthy person. It is too easy for an active person such as myself to work too hard and to get my life out of balance.

But sometimes we just have to work really hard. Cancer treatment is one of those times. One of the hardest thing about this time as well as during other unpredictable and serious stressors in my life is that I don’t know how long I will have to work super hard in crisis mode. In the past, I used to tell myself that I would slow down once the stressor passed, for example, once I finished my Ph.D., once I got my career settled, once my daughter was older, once we bought a house, etc.

Those stressors never stop. Life is hard and complicated. Fortunately, I appear to be in good physical health and my mental health is strong. I have a safe place to live, a loving family, lots of friends, and a wonderful job. But it is easy to get caught up in moving too fast, worrying too much, and creating needless suffering for myself even in a life that in most respects is an embarrassment of riches.

As I’ve mentioned recently, right now I am focusing on having more fun with my husband. We do something, just the two of us, at least a couple of times a week. We went on a trip. We went to grown up prom. I have also started having more fun with my daughter. I think that the fact that I am more relaxed has had some positive impact on her among other things. Just last weekend she told me, ‘Mom, have you noticed that I am out of my “I hate my mom” teen phase?’ I have learned to accept these lavish gifts with understatement. “Hmm, I guess yes, I’ve noticed. Why do you think that is?” She replied, “I don’t know. I guess I just got older.”

I take these beautiful moments for what they are, moments. And they seem to be threading together into increased maturity. But her growth is not linear; it has peaks and valleys and plateaus. All of our lives are like this, even the most stable of us because there are so many aspects of life that are out of our control.

My family life is still full of unknowns. My husband and I still deal with major stressors and challenges both within our immediate family and in our extended family. We are part of what is called “the sandwich generation“. Sometimes I feel like we are the PB&J left on the bottom of a backpack for a week that ended up getting run over by the school bus.

Nonetheless, we are making time for fun. We have trips or fun visits planned for every month from May and September. My passport is being renewed as we speak. We will see two coasts, mountains, and two states. We’ll travel by planes, trains, and automobiles. We’ll be surrounded by friends, by cities, and by nature. And yes, friends, there will be photos, lots of them.

I am discovering that  I need to make time for peace and enjoyment. One of the least sustainable premises in real life is waiting for life to get easier.

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His name was Kurt. We went to high school together. He was a year ahead of me. I think it was my junior year. We took creative writing together one semester. I remember his appearance. He had very fair skin and very light blonde curly hair. I am pretty sure that he wore glasses. I also think he sat kitty corner across the classroom from me (we sat at tables in a “U” formation instead of in rows of desks). I remember his being nice but not really knowing or noticing much about his personality. As I recall, he was fairly quiet. He was one of the boys at school who was into muscle cars and he had some kind of old but “cool” car like a Ford Mustang, or something.

One day, as I was walking in the hallway from one class to another, he stopped me. I don’t recall ever having had a one to one conversation with him previously, but then again, I could have forgotten many. I am and was pretty friendly and talked to many people. Kurt looked assumed a very relaxed stance and with apparent nonchalance, asked me to his senior prom.

You may already know that I never attended a formal dance at school: No prom, no homecoming, and no winter ball. I did not attend any university formal dances; those were mostly for sorority girls. I was not in a sorority and honestly, at that time, would have avoided attending any event like that.

So, if I was asked to prom and didn’t go, I must have told Kurt, “no”, right?

Strictly speaking, that’s the truth. But the part that still embarrasses me and makes me feel guilty is that I told him, “yes” when he asked me and then changed my mind and cancelled on him the next day. I was afraid. I didn’t really know him. He wasn’t one of the boys who I was wanting to ask me out, either. And he drove a hot rod! I was afraid that he would be one of those boys who would pressure me for sex on prom night or try to get me drunk!   I backed out in as nice of a way as possible. I later got to know him a little better and he probably would have been a good date. I could have been able to attend a major high school “coming of age” social event and NOT hurt a boy’s feelings. Oh yeah, I may have even had a good time.

About four weeks ago I was reading my neighborhood’s community blog. I saw that a “Second Chance Prom” was to be held as a charity benefit, at the golf course down the street from me. The tickets were very reasonably priced and it looked like a small, low key affair. So I bought two tickets and made an additional donation to the charity. Then I told John that he was taking me and as I had hoped, he readily and enthusiastically accepted.

I spent more time choosing clothing and accessories for my Second Chance Prom than I did for my wedding. I got my hair and make up done professionally. For my own wedding, I cut my own hair, styled it, and did my own make up using drug store cosmetics. But this is grown up prom! I wanted to get the best out of it and enjoy the process leading up to the event as much as I could. I trusted that I would not go crazy. After all, I will always be a discount shopper.

I tried on a lot of dresses. The one I ultimately chose was not my favorite based on photos. But it fit almost perfectly, required no uncomfortable foundation garments, was comfortable, and fit the James Bond theme of the prom. Also, it had an open back, which I knew John would like, and I looked about as good as I could.

Yesterday started as “glam day”. After my walk, I spent about 45 minutes online looking at photos to inspire hair and make-up ideas. If I were going to look like a Bond Girl, I wanted to go retro. I started getting a few ideas from photos of actresses from James Bond films from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Then I just started thinking about actresses from that time period and I thought, “What about Ann-Margaret?” Ding, ding, ding! I found an old photo of her with glam hair and make-up well suited to the time period as well as my hair.

My husband did not want to see my dress so I wore a coat over it, though he could see the bottom of it since it was a full length gown. He had still not picked out his outfit. Most of his button-down shirts are Hawaiian shirts. Knowing how overheated he gets, I even told him that I didn’t mind if he wanted to wear one. My only request was, “Please, no sneakers.”

He drove me to the salon with the plan that he would pick me up later and take me to dinner. This would be his way of picking me up for prom. I thought that was really sweet. I have gone to this salon for many years, so people know me there. They loved the idea of my going to prom and were excited to see John pick me up. I was seeing a different stylist for my make up and hair, Candace, who was recommended by my regular hair stylist, Megan.

I showed Candace the photo. She immediately understood what I wanted. Megan also came over during one of her breaks and said, “Good choice!” Candace was funny and sweet. I had arrived with a clean face and clean, frizzy hair. She styled my hair first and then did my make up. At one point, she said, “You are looking really glamorous, Dude. You clean up well.” When she was finished, I could tell that she was proud of her work. She said, “Let me parade you around the salon.” I followed her to the other side of the salon, where Megan was working. She also approved.

I was very pleased. Candace took a couple of photos of me for her portfolio and sweetly gave me a hug before she left to work with her next client. My husband arrived and responded in a positive but slightly stunned way. Then we got our photo taken together. John then kept asking me to pose for photos. And by “pose” I mean he instructed me on how to pose, a good thing because I have one pose and that is it. I think he said, “Wow” about five times. We had a great dinner.

We knew no one at the dance. But we were both ready to have a good prom. We danced when we wanted to even if we were the only couple on the dance floor. John sat down when he needed to. (It was hot and his back is still bothering him.) I danced even if he wasn’t dancing.

I danced even when I was the only one on the dance floor. I just enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the experience of dancing, which is something I love to do. I’m sure that I raised a few eyebrows. When I “get into the zone” with dancing, there is a certain level of abandon that people typically associate with um, intoxication. If this had been high school, there would have been mean gossip. As I keep saying, age has its benefits. After about 1 1/2 hours of dancing, I took off my shoes and went barefoot because I could tell that my feet were going to hurt, if I didn’t. After another 1 1/2 hours, we called it quits. My hip was hurting and John was drenched with sweat.

I missed my first chance at prom because I was afraid. I could have missed my second chance by being self-conscious about my body, my age, or being the only person on the dance floor. But I didn’t miss it and I had the time of my life with the man I love.

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Hubby opted not to wear a Hawaiian shirt and his one blue dress shirt perfectly coordinated with my dress. And for those of you who have had breast construction, the little dent under my right underarm would probably be described as a “deficit” from a reconstructive surgery standpoint. Does it bother you? It didn’t bother me, either! And if the appearance of symmetry is important to you, the neckline of this dress is helpful in that regard.

 

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband's insistence on taking a million photos of you.

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband’s insistence on taking a million photos of you.

 

Dinner at "the most romantic table" at Salty's, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

Dinner at “the most romantic table” at Salty’s, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

 

Corsage and prom bling on display.

Corsage and prom bling on display.

 

 

My husband, John and I were married in the late winter of 1990. It snowed that morning, creating a slight but unnecessary panic. I remember waiting A LONG time in the bride’s room. My niece, Tricia, who was about 5 or 6 years old at the time, kept unwinding the greenery from the rose she was to carry in the ceremony. She picked off the leaves and then dropped a couple of them down the front of my dress, in the space between the satin lining and the lace overlay. Tricia also entertained us with comments like, “I wonder what would happen if a MAN came in here while we were all getting dressed?” She seemed to find the whole bride’s room experience to be titillating.

I remember a few other things but honestly, I remember so very little from the actual ceremony and reception. My friend, Lisa, who had gotten married a few years previously had advised me to try to pay attention to what was happening so that I would remember my wedding day. I remember feeling nervous being the center of attention especially when I realized that my butt, clothed in a form-fitting mermaid style dress, was going to be facing the guests for nearly the entire ceremony. Yes, this was silly. And you may be thinking that this was an awful lot of self-consciousness for a 10 minute long ceremony. However, it was a Catholic wedding and an hour long! My butt was on display throughout Bible readings, songs, and candle lighting. Go ahead and judge me; I just want to make sure that you have your facts straight. Kidding aside, although our wedding was very meaningful, it was also very stressful. I was not as present as I could have been.

That wedding day 25 years ago today. A lot led up that that day in March. We had dated for three years. We were young but we did not rush into anything. I was ready to get married, as ready as I could be. After all, I’d caught six wedding bouquets! It was my turn! I’d also purchased my dress before John proposed. (There is a reasonable explanation for that. Just believe me.) Seriously, we were seriously in love and although like any relationship, ours was imperfect, I was confident that John was the man for me.

I have thought a lot about what to do for John for our silver wedding anniversary. We exchange gifts, though typically not lavish ones. I thought I might write some wedding vows for him to cover the next 25 years of marriage and post it here.

I started thinking about a lot of promises, old and new. I started thinking about the challenges were are likely to have in the next chapter in our marriage. Every marriage is different. Our marriage is built on a foundation of love, honesty, and genuine fondness for one another. Even a foundation made from the strongest materials needs, mortar however. Ours is being engaged with one another.

My vow is to work my hardest to be present. And when I find myself stuck in a past that will never change or in a future that I will never know, I will find my way back to you as fast as my legs will carry me.

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This is where we celebrated our anniversary last weekend, Salish Lodge at Snoqualmie Falls. This is about a 45 minute drive from Seattle.

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On the drive back home, we stopped on Mercer Island for a walk along Lake Washington.

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My Wednesday “learning to keep my shit together” class reconvened this week after a holiday break. The topic for the evening was acceptance, a mindfulness practice. The purpose of mindfulness is to reduce suffering. Acceptance is one process by which suffering is reduced.

I am working very hard to accept some hard truths about my life, some about my present and some potential truths in my future. These are truths about my life as an individual, as a wife, and as a parent.  As I was thinking about this, one of the instructors wrote two equations on the white board:

Pain + acceptance = pain

Pain + non-acceptance = suffering

I think of pain and suffering as synonymous.  But this is not a dictionary course or a vocabulary test. And I have to admit that “suffering” sounds worse than “pain”. Suffering sounds like pain with a large side dish of something nasty. Perhaps the space between pain and suffering, within this framework, is filled with a roil of self-inflicted things. Another way to say this is that suffering may result from coping with pain in a way that enhances it and perhaps makes it last for a longer time. Everyone does this from time to time.

There are “hot button” issues for me. There are experiences that I have for which I have an immediate, negative response. They push a fear button, an anger button, or a grief button. And as I am having the response, I often know that it is out of scale. I have gotten upset too quickly and too intensely. There are also times when I feel stress in the back of my mind and it wakes me at night or invades my dreams. I think these are examples of suffering.

Acceptance is a process, a continuum. I am trying to work my way. So far I am learning that there is a cognitive part. In order to accept something I need to acknowledge it. I need to name it. I need to reason with it. That is what I have mostly been working on for the past couple of years. The acceptance that takes place in my mind. On Wednesday, our homework was to think about what acceptance would look like for each of us as behaviors. If we accepted the aspect of life with which we were struggling and suffering, how would our behavior be different?

Changing my behavior, making it consistent with acceptance, is really hard. I have been making a concerted effort on this for the past month or so. I have seen changes. I have experienced shifts to a more positive place. My anger and fear are reduced. My pain and sadness are still there but the suffering is getting less.

 

I am taking a six month class in skills designed, basically, to help me keep my emotional shit together. Unsurprisingly, the first unit is on mindfulness. I got into the class thinking, “Mindfulness, I’ve been doing this for over two years. This will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.”

I am here to tell you that week two has not lived up to it lemon squeezy potential. I have a lot of practice in observing without judgment. I also have a lot of experience describing my feeling states and being somewhat non judgmental about that.

Apparently, there’s other stuff. One of those things is doing things effectively. This has to do with thinking about my goals, at least that’s what I understand so far.

The instructor explained the whole thing. Meanwhile, I can tell you using my describing skills that I felt confused followed by elucidated followed by the realization that I was elucidated and not just confused, but in a different way. Then I think I got it but we will see on Wednesday when I check in about my homework.

And you know that I practiced on hubby. I can go through an interaction with my husband thinking, “Hm, that hurt my feelings and I don’t think John meant to do that. But wow, I am hurt and angry.”

That sounds good, doesn’t it?

Except that often what comes out of my mouth is, “Why did you say that?”

I am here to tell you that asking someone “Why did you say that” or “Why did you do that” when you are hurt, angry, or scared, will get you no where good, fast.

And yet I find myself saying this over and over. It is utterly not in keeping with my goals to be a peaceful loving wife who communicates well with John, whom I love dearly.

Another thing I might do is say nothing and think to myself, “This is not a big deal. Don’t start a fight.”

But in that case I did not accomplish my goal of communicating a hurt that was important to me and I risk getting resentful about it.

So I tried something new. John did something I didn’t like. And I said, “Honey, I am not trying to punish you or fight with you. But I am feeling anxious and angry about x and wondering if we might talk about it?”

It was not the easiest conversation but it was much easier and it was not a fight. But then I got very hurt and angry about something else. In time, he apologized for what he said and sincerely, but I found that I was still hurt and angry. I couldn’t let it drop. But it took me awhile to understand why I couldn’t let it drop. He had said something that might not upset someone else but because of who I am and what is important to me, it hurt. I was still upset because what he’d said had surprised me and I wanted to know that he understood why it was upsetting. I wanted reassurance that he still knew me and what is important to me. I said, “I’m sorry, I am still really hurt about this. I am sorry that I can’t let it drop. I need you to say, x, y, and z.” And then he said those things and he said them sincerely. We had been stuck in one of the arguments that go around and around. And then I felt so much better.  We had a very nice evening after what had been a tense couple of days.

The best thing about this class? I got confused because I encountered some new ideas and skills. That means there are more tools out there for me to learn. This is very reassuring to me.

On this day in 1954, my parents got married. Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

My mom recently suggested that my blogging so frequently about how stressful my life is, might be adding to the stress in my life.

So, Mom and Dad, for your anniversary, I will be a font of positive communication until tomorrow, at which time, we will be back to our regularly scheduled program of life, with its ups and downs. And I will be writing about both.

I also promise to post photos of pies on Facebook. That always makes everyone happy, including me.

Seriously, I love you, Mom and Dad! Happy Anniversary!

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This morning, I awoke at 4:15 am. As is usual for me, I typically sleep poorly the night before I have to wake up early to catch a flight. Last night was no exception. I awoke at 11:00 pm thinking that it was morning, again at Midnight, and again at 2:00 am. I don’t know if my mind doesn’t trust that my alarm will go off or if I’m just too excited about upcoming adventures, or if perhaps, I have wound myself into a tizzy getting loose ends tied up before I leave for a trip. I suppose it is likely a combination of all of these things.

Having not slept deeply, I was able to get ready quickly. I am going out to dinner with my friend, Robin when I arrive in Raleigh. Consequently, I used my friend, Cheryl’s conference travel trick of wearing comfortable traveling clothes that will also be suitable to wear at social hours and dinners out. The comfortable clothes part was fairly easy. I have a stylish professional and dress wardrobe. However, I stopped wearing clothes that need ironing or dry cleaning years ago. So all of my dresses are pretty comfortable. I also used my trick of wearing my bulkiest pair of shoes on the plane to save room in my luggage. This morning, it was a toss-up between my blue hiking boots and my black wedge sandals. The sandals are both very cute and comfortable, having been made by a savvy shoe company that caters to the middle-aged foot. Though I am not above wearing boots or sneakers with dresses in an airport, I opted for the sandals.

I typically get to the airport about 1 ½ hours before a flight. Yeah, I know that they say to get there two hours early but seriously, who does that? The cab arrived a little early and the drive to the airport was quick, and my airline was one of the first gates. So I was at the airport 1 ¾ hours early. I went through security (shoes are coming off again), found my gate, and bought a coffee at Dilettante Chocolates (they coffee is so much better than Starbucks’ plus there was no line, they are also local, and did I mention chocolate?)

By the time I sat in the gate area, I still had 1 ½ hours to kill. I sent out some silly Facebook postings, sent an “I love you” text to hubby, and watched the rain hit the tarmac with a steady strum. Time passed quickly, I boarded, and after the usual wait, the pilot’s assurance that we would be underway in a “minute or two” (airplane-speak for waits ranging between and minute or two and a several hours), we took off.

Despite the rain, the lower skies over Seattle were clear. In the early morning darkness, the city lights sparkled like fireflies. I could see the Puget Sound and islands in the distance. It was quite lovely. The effect reminded me of the beauty of my home town as well as a nostalgic reminder of the fireflies I found so enchanting when I lived in the South, which is where I am headed today, to the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. I lived there for six years as a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student at UNC-Chapel Hill. This Saturday, my Ph.D. program is having its first ever reunion, an idea prompted by the retirement of my dissertation adviser, Joe Lowman, after 40 years with the program, not counting his own years as a graduate student there. One of the faculty figured that since Joe had taught almost every living alumnus of the program, it was only fitting to have a reunion for all graduating years.

When I started graduate school in 1990, I was 24 years-old, and a newlywed of six months. I was one of the only married students in my class of 13 students. I had never lived out of the Seattle area having grown up in Renton, WA and attended college at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was one of only two six children to move more than a one hour long drive from my parents’ house. My younger brother, James and his wife, Meagan lived in South Bend, Indiana for three years while she was in law school at Notre Dame. But everyone knew that they were moving back and in fact they moved the day after her commencement.

At that time, I was planning to become a professor and knowing how few universities there are in the Pacific Northwest, I did not think I would ever again be more than a visitor to the part of the country I love so much. I remember at our first grad student orientation meeting, asking our department chair questions to clarify when the school breaks and vacations would be. She and my classmates probably thought I was a lazy student! The truth was that I was anxious and already homesick. I wanted reassurance that I would see my family again. All of these transitions, not to mention the fact that my childhood dog has passed at age 15 on my wedding day, created an abrupt take off to independence.

There were also the cultural adjustments. I had only been to the East Coast once not counting my changing planes in New York on the way to and from my honeymoon, from which I had just returned a week or so earlier. I had never been to the South and by that I mean the southeastern part of the U.S., which for cultural reasons, does not include Florida. (Having subsequently lived in north central Florida, I beg to differ.)

The first cultural adjustment was the humidity. It was August in North Carolina. I had just been in the dessert near the Egyptian/Sudanese border. This is one of the hottest places on Earth during the hottest time of the year. You know when people say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity?” Word.

Okay, I know what you are thinking. Humidity is not culture; humidity is climate. Well, I believe that it impacts the culture there. The humidity in the South is like a character in a story. At night, walking outdoors among the outlines of live oaks and hanging Spanish moss, it feels like a seductive and exotic embrace. During the day, it is brutal, relentless, and soul-crushing. Life is lived, as much as possible, in air conditioned environments during the hot time of the year.

The second adjustment was the fact that I was only one of three students in my entire program who was from the West Coast. There was only one other student, Steve Geller, who was from Seattle but he was an advanced student who quickly left the area to complete his internship. Five years after I moved back to Seattle, I coincidentally became his office mate in our neighborhood of West Seattle, until he moved to Hawaii in the summer of 2013.

Chapel Hill is a lovely colonial college town. We don’t have colonial era architecture in Seattle. The oldest homes and buildings are from the late 1800’s and those are rare indeed. I only know of one, which is the oldest home in Seattle and the site of a small museum. In Seattle, we have totem poles that old but even Native American artifacts are not in great supply at least in western Washington due to wood being the most plentiful building material and our wet climate. Things rot. To see the old buildings in Chapel Hill, with their red brick that mirrors the color of the Georgia clay in the soil, was a lovely treat, like living in an outdoor museum.

My husband and I adjusted to living in North Carolina. In fact, we loved living there and would have considered settling there. We loved the rich history of contemporary fiction. I remember attending a short story reading in a converted 1700’s barn in Fearrington Village. These were authors who used words that painted characters with deeply saturated hues. And the music of the language was stunning. I loved it. To this day, some of my favorite authors are contemporary southern writers. Anyone who says, “Southerners are stupid” needs to pick up a damn book.

And maybe it has something to do with all of the eccentric, strong women in southern literature that allow my strong personality made waves in the South, it was not as bad as one might predict, though part of that may have been because I was in academia, an environment in which I have felt comfortable being direct and opinionated.

The last adaptation was adjusting to being in one of the most rigorous Ph.D. programs in the country. Psychology is a funny discipline. At the bachelor’s level, it is considered one of the easiest degrees to obtain. Now I took a more rigorous course of study to obtain a B.S. instead of a B.A. but even so my husband’s undergraduate program in computer science was so much harder than mine. But at the doctoral level, especially in clinical psychology, which requires both research and clinical training, psychology is a really hard course of study. Good God, the first semester kicked my ass. And it wasn’t that I performed poorly academically, it was just that I felt that I was working all of the time and running scared. For a while, I feared that I would be kicked out of the program. One of my classmates, who was an older student and therefore wiser said, “Elizabeth, you are solidly passing all of your classes (we did not get A, B, C… type grades). Why would you get kicked out?” Thank you, Craig, wherever you are. Eventually, I became a confident student. Honestly, I loved graduate school.

I have not been back North Carolina for eight years and my past trips have been brief. This is also the first time I’ve been there traveling without my husband. That makes it more of an adventure and a reminder of very exciting and important times in my early adulthood when the world opened up to a big big place.

I look forward to seeing you, my home away from home. You are the place where my husband and I built the foundation of our young marriage and shared our dreams for the future. You are the placed I learned a profession I love deeply. You taught me the importance of friendship and how friends can be like family. For awhile, you gave me a cool accent and you performed the miracle of getting me interested in spectator sports with Dean Smith and the Tarheels.

Chapel Hill, you were good to me, except for that damned humidity.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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