Thank You

I was thinking I should attend a Memorial Day ceremony or parade today.  And, as usual, God gave me what I asked for.  Instead of taking my usual right turn toward the library on my morning walk, I went left towards the firehouse.  From the open second-floor windows, I could hear the local bagpipers practicing.  I figured they were preparing for the parade in the next town south at ten AM.  I walked over to the park and took a look at the war memorial lined with flags.  I was struck by how many times I saw a last name listed not twice, but three times.  I stopped counting after four instances of this.

“You sticking around?” a guy asked me.  “Yes,” I said and he handed me a program.  I had no idea, but our town’s Memorial Day Ceremony was taking place in five minutes.  The bagpipers accompanied our volunteer firefighters over to the memorial.  As I stood watching, a woman from my crochet group at the library said, “Do you know the story of the bagpipers?”  “No,” I said.  “Well, they practice in the firehouse every Thursday night and in exchange for getting to use the firehouse, they accompany our firefighters in parades.  ‘Cause it’s expensive to hire bagpipers, you know.  Especially for parades.”  I love small towns, I thought.

The pastor from the local Episcopal church opened the ceremony with a prayer.  Our veterans came forward to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d said those words.  We sang God Bless America and then one of our veterans gave a short but touching speech.  He explained that veterans write a blank check to their country, payable in duties and services up to and including their lives.  He teared up as he asked us to be thankful for all of those that had made good on that check.

Stood Up

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I wouldn’t have stood you up,” said the bartender.  “Thanks,” I said, doing my best to hold myself together as I plopped down his tip, hopped off the bar stool I’d kept warm for a half hour, and headed out the door.

I’m not a big fan of sitting alone at a bar.  But if I’m waiting for someone, I’ll do it.  I’ll try to get in on a conversation with others at the bar so I don’t feel so alone.  And that’s just what I had done this time.  After ordering my drink, the bartender asked, “Are you meeting someone?”  “I’m supposed to,” I responded, already knowing in my gut it wasn’t going to happen.  I knew as soon as I walked in and he wasn’t there.  But I had put on a happy face, saddled up to the bar as if I drink alone all the time, and ordered myself a glass of wine to calm my nerves.  It didn’t help much.

After ten minutes I texted him to find out where he was.  Contrary to popular thought, checking your text messages every three minutes does not make new ones rapidly appear.  Fifteen minutes later (though it felt like an hour – how long to do you wait?  I figured until I finished my wine…) I declared to the bartender I’d been stood up and asked what I owed him.  He asked if I was sure I didn’t want another drink.  I don’t think it would have eased my pain…besides the fact I’d driven an hour to get here and had to get home.  I was going to have enough trouble seeing through my tears – another glass of wine would not have helped.

He tried to console me saying that he would have never stood me up.  And that’s when it hit me.  I am SO worth more than this.  Or so I try to tell myself.  How many friends had I seen do just what I was doing?  Give someone another chance only to be shot down over and over.  Why do we women do this to ourselves?  In hopes that one day he’ll change?  That one day all of a sudden he’ll be someone other than who he is?  Or is it because it’s easier to at least have someone in your life, even if he’s not perfect, because we know no one ever will be.  So how close to perfect can you get, anyway?  Well, closer than this I’m sure.  I’m sure because I’ve had it before.  I’ve had men that never stood me up – not only that, but I never feared they ever would.  I’ve had relationships that were flat out easy – not a single fear that he would not call, that he would forget my birthday.  I remember one of my sisters once asking me, after her boyfriend dropped off the face of the earth for a few days, “What do you do when your boyfriend doesn’t contact you for a few days?”  “Uh…I don’t know,” I stuttered.  “I’ve never had that happen.”  Well, that was a long time ago.  And since that time I’ve had men I cared about, and thought cared about me, drop off the face of the earth.  And when they show up again I’m there.  And now I understand all my girlfriends that do the same thing….

I wish I knew a fool proof remedy for recovering from such situations.  I wasn’t in the mood for chocolate (odd, very odd…), nor ice cream…I sought the solace of friends  but all were out enjoying their holiday weekend.  Why can’t I be let down on a random Tuesday?  Why does it have to happen on a night when everyone else in the world is with friends having a good time?  I finally made it home, and thankfully it’s time for bed.  Here’s to hoping tomorrow is a better day:)

The Things People Say

“Are you independently wealthy?” he asked.  It’s sad that people think in order to live the life I do, I must be independently wealthy.  “No,” I said.  “I just choose work and manage my money in such a way that I can do what I want.”  I wasn’t going to get into it any further with this guy.  I could see he could not at all relate to what I was saying.  Most men of a certain generation can’t.  I don’t fault them – they grew up at a time when people married young and therefore had a family to support, a home to pay a mortgage on.  Sometimes I’ll say, “Well, I don’t have a family or a mortgage,” to try to explain to these men how I can do this.  But I’ve stopped saying that recently because I know people with families and mortgages can follow their hearts, too.

I’m used to the money questions because I have a father of that same generation.  He got married at 25, and by the time he was my age he had three kids and was building a house for what would eventually become a family of seven.  It seems that money is the language is which these guys speak.  Their language also involves security, and thoughts of the future – the very far-off future. It’s not that I don’t care about my far-off future.  I’m just not going to let those thoughts stop me from doing what I want to do now.

Though I know I don’t have to justify my life to my father, I like the guy and can’t help but share things with him.  I just hope I don’t give him a heart attack.  I used to ensure I wasn’t the one who killed him by telling my ideas to my mother first.  She would then present them to him and handle the brunt of his shock.  Now I try to prevent his imminent death by preparing him for the inevitable changes I will make.  When he gets excited about a new job I’ve taken up, he’ll say something like, “Oh – it sounds like you really like this.  Maybe you’ll stick with this one, huh?”  “Dad – you know the minute you say that I’m going to quit, so don’t get your hopes up,” I’ll respond. I’m not sure whether he’s adjusted or if I’ve just gotten better at handling his reactions and worries about me.

“I don’t know what your relationship is with your father, but as a father myself, I just feel I should tell you that  they’ll come a time when you won’t be able to just up and go wherever you want,” said a man of my father’s generation to me the other day. He was dancing around what he really wanted to say: Has someone told you you need to save for retirement?  I was in a room full of folks who had worked for 30+ years and were now “enjoying” their retirement.  I got the feeling a lot of them didn’t enjoy their working lives nearly as much.  I was the youngest one there by 25 years I’d guess.  “I put money away,” I told this dear man.  “I have money saved for retirement.  I have health insurance, and disability insurance.”  His face gave away his surprise.  I told him my dad is adjusting to my way of life.  “Well, he’s doing a good job,” he said.  As in, “Thank God someone told you…”

I know these folks don’t mean to burst my bubble.  And they don’t anymore.  That’s because Barbara Winter’s words from her book Making A Living Without A Job have stuck with me: basically that people who don’t know a lot about something are usually it’s biggest critics.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t talk to these people.  It just means that if I’m talking to a guy who worked 30 years in the same job, he might not have a clue as to what to say to me.  Or his advice might be completely off base.  Or might be coming from a place so very different from where I am in life.  And as long as I recognize it as such, it doesn’t stop me.

The Next Adventure

I have the good fortune of being blessed with a mother who listens to my ever changing ideas and when she sees something that might be of interest to me, she sends it my way.  So thanks to Mom, I’ll be spending a week living and working on an organic farm run by the Sisters of Charity at the end of July.

This all came about because my mom read, in the Catholic New York newspaper, an ad seeking volunteers for the Sisters Hill Farm.  Volunteers would plant, weed, and harvest for the farm which has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  She left me the name and number of the contact person.  I googled the place and mom was spot on.  It sounded like the perfect opportunity.  I have a growing interest in eating local food and have twice participated in CSA programs (and written posts on the topic here).  I also have done plenty of volunteering with women religious and have loved every experience (see my posts about Sr. Cathy and Mississippi). And ever since I found out you could basically travel the world living and working on organic farms in exchange for room and board with WWOOF, I’ve wanted to “test out” my stamina for the work.  No need to plan on three months of farming in Italy only to find out I can’t stand it!  So a one-week test drive sounded perfect.

Yesterday I found out I was accepted into the program – but only after I assured them that I have no physical problems that would prevent me from squatting down to weed (and being able to get back up again!).  I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my experience July 24-31:)

A Vision

I stood at the top of the stairs at a local cafe admiring a piece of artwork hanging on the wall.  I heard someone coming up the stairs.  He got to the landing below me and as he turned to come up, I stepped back to let him by.  But he looked at me and stopped.  There was the briefest pause as he held my gaze, then he stammered and finally said, “You. Are. A. Vision.  That dress…it’s…”  The guy was literally speechless.  I laughed and thanked him. As he walked by, he said something about being “ruined” for the rest of the day.

The guy was in his late 60s, and the dress was nothing revealing.  It’s red and white, though, and I happen to know I look fabulous in red.  You know how you have one thing in your closet that no matter how crappy you feel or think you look, if you put that on you look like a million bucks?  If you don’t have one of those in your closet, go out and find one.  I have a couple.  The dress I wore yesterday was one of them.  And to make it even better, I bought the dress at a consignment shop, so not only do I look fabulous in it but I paid hardly anything for it and it’s recycled.

But my whole point with writing this is that that guy made my day.  A “vision”?  He called me a “vision”?!  That’s a first.  I’ll take it.  The guy literally was at a loss for words – this never happens to me.  The whole incident reminded me of reading once that you should give three compliments every day.  I try to do that.  But after the high this one gave me, I’ll be sure to do it more often.

The Story of our Lives

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers.  You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw  a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen.  The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back.  Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful.  The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.  Here’s what I mean by that:”

So starts Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, the book that took up a good portion of my Monday, and another example of God sending me messages.  My story is getting a little predictable and I don’t like it.  No, it doesn’t have to be movie quality.  But I love stories – reading them, writing them, living them.  I have been known to respond to the question of, “What did you like about (insert name of an ex-boyfriend)” with “We had such a good story of how we met.”

My new chapter is taking shape.  Simple Abundance today talked about writing the outline before the chapter – about how we do that with our lives as well.  But the outline might just be in our heads for a while.  That’s where my outline lives right now.  Here’s what I’ve got so far: living someplace else for a month this summer.  Quebec City, actually.  In a very simple apartment.

My vision for this apartment comes from one I house sat in Washington, D.C.  The woman was my boss at the time – though I hate using that word – doesn’t ‘boss’ sound so mean?  Probably because I relate it to the word ‘bossy’.  This woman was nothing like that.  She was the kind that, when you walked into her office, you felt like the only other person on her planet.  And when you walked out, you felt like you’d just had the best therapy session ever – even if you’d only spent two minutes in there.  She could see right into my heart, it seemed.  She would ask a question that would stop me in my tracks – make me see something in a way I’d never thought.

It also turns out she was a former nun.  And her husband a former brother or priest or something.  This is the second couple like this that I’ve met in my lifetime.  And I hear there are lots of them out there.  Anyway, I could see it in her – the calmness, the simplicity.  In fact, this is one of the things that prompted me to look into becoming a sister at one point – this lifestyle in which you are quite busy, but still in such a calming space; you’re grounded in something or someone that gives you this peace.

A large part of this feeling comes from how these women live.  I have come a long way since Catholic elementary school, when the nuns lived in a building in the back that none of us ever saw.  It was a great mystery to me – what did the house of a nun look like?  Well, I’ve been in the homes of many sisters since then.  They live in apartments and houses like everyone else – from the outside.  But when I walk in, they all give me that same sense of peace and stillness.  There is usually a simplicity in their decor: not crowded, but filled with just enough.  And each piece on the walls has a story – of one of the sisters former assignments, or a place she’s visited.  Never would the response to, “Wow – that’s beautiful – where did you get it?” be “TJ Maxx” in these womens homes.

I can’t say it’s easy to find a place to rent in Quebec City for a month.  There are a few ads on craigslist, but in the pictures they all seem too stuffed with furniture.  I want to be in a place that has space – space for me to think, literally and figuratively.  So then I thought about living in a convent or monastery for a month.  This is very common in Europe.  The sisters (and brothers and priests) rent out rooms and provide some food as well.  Imagine waking up to monks chanting…now there’s a story!  And of course, the rooms are simple.  This is what I love about going on retreats.  You get a room with a bed and a desk – because that’s all you need.  A couple hooks to hang some clothes.  Perhaps a sink and mirror.  And I love those rooms.

So if anyone has suggestions, let me know.  And I’ll surely keep you posted.

Time for a Change….

I’m ready for a change.  That feeling I get every so often of life getting a little too predictable has returned.  It comes on gradually, like something you hear so softly you’re not sure if you heard it at all.  You say to the person next to you, “Did you hear that?” and they say, “Hear what?”   You think maybe it was nothing, but then you hear it again.  And now you’re sure it’s there.  Even if no one else hears it.  Then, it becomes so noticeable you wonder how you ever doubted it was there to begin with.  I’m not at the point where it’s that noticeable yet.  But I definitely hear it.

A Writing Retreat

I love that we can learn new things at any age.  In my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School two years ago, not one of us had ever before attempted writing our own life stories.  And we were a group with participants in their 20’s up into their 70’s.

My experience there has led to all kinds of wonderful things.  Not only did I recognize a talent for and a love of writing stories, but I got the motivation to keep it up: a group of us stayed in touch and started an on-line writing group.  The first of every month we send pieces out to each other for critique. This past March four of us from the group reunited at the Folk School for another writing class.  And now we’re planning our own yearly writing retreat!

I would love to again have that feeling of being so excited about life that I can’t wait to start each day.  But in the meantime, what keeps me going are  trips.  A while back I came across a website for a place specifically dedicated to hosting writers for a week to months.  I sent it out to our group saying it seemed possibly “too quiet.”  That’s when I was thinking of going alone.  But to host our group it is perfect.  Five simple but beautifully furnished rooms, large front porches, all overlooking the James River in Virginia.

One of the many fabulous things about my on-line writing group is that when someone throws out an idea, the responses are usually nothing but the enthusiastic let’s-do-it type.  The plans are coming together.  I volunteered to supervise the food schedule.  Each of us will have one night we’re responsible for the meal (there’s a communal kitchen).  Each of us will also serve one night as the sous-chef.  And yesterday I called and e-mailed The Porches to inquire about our dates.  We’re planning for next summer, but a few of us will probably go this summer to “check it out” as Lois says.  (Really, of course, we just can’t wait a year to see each other again, to get away, and do some writing!)

So you know all those things I say about how good it is to do things alone once in a while?  Here’s another reason: you may make some fabulous friends and years later find yourself in a beautiful old home with them overlooking a river, laughing, cooking, and writing.

Talking to Strangers: On Trains

As I walked down the aisle trying to decide which seat to take on the train, I walked by two young guys speaking a foreign language.  I took the seat behind them, convinced they had a good story.  Though I’m convinced everyone has a good story…

I could not tell what language they were speaking but soon one of them pulled out a video camera and pointed it himself saying, “This is day two of our trip….” in perfect English – no hint of an accent.  Day two of a trip?  Oh how jealous I was!   Where were they going?  What was the occasion?  Where were they from?  I tried to read the book I had brought with me, but couldn’t concentrate as I was trying to catch anything from them that might answer my questions.

After a couple of stops, I scooted from my window seat, across the empty middle seat, sat in the aisle seat and peeked my head in between them.  “Excuse me,” I said, “but where are you two from?”  They looked startled for a minute, but then said the Netherlands.  I then asked what brought them here and about their trip.  One had just finished a year in the states, the other just a few months.  They decided to take this trip last year in math class when one proposed a trip around the US and the other said, “Sure!”  Why didn’t I have friends like this in high school?

They were going to the city, then to Niagara Falls, then out to Boston.  I said I lived in Boston for six years and they asked where they should go besides the Freedom Trail.  I gave them some advice, then got the sense they thought it a little odd that I was so excited about their trip, so I told them to have a good time as I scooted back to my seat.

A couple stops later a guy sat down in the aisle seat at the end of my row.  I got the smile and hello that invited conversation and dove in.  This guy has been working in the city for six years at an advertising company.  I found this odd as he was in jeans and sweatshirt, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about work, so we went on to other topics.  He made a comment about the guys in front of us and I proceeded to tell him their story.  At the part where I said I lived in Boston for six years he said he did too.  I said something about the Farmers Market and it turns out he’s a vegetarian and has been for 25 years.  We talked about cooking and got into fish – something I don’t know much about cooking but would like to learn.  He told me a couple places I could get fish, told me the best ones to start out preparing, and when asked gave me a couple ways to prepare them.  “You cover the chunks in a little milk, then you put together some corn meal, flour, salt and pepper.  Put them in that, then bake them.  That’s what they call ‘oven-fried.'”  Oven-fried?  I’d heard of that, I said, but had no idea what it was.  Hmph.  Who knew.

I got off the train to meet a friend for lunch.  We decided to head to one of the historic sites that had a cafe as well.  We got our admission ticket and headed for a tour of the manor house.  Then we were encouraged to tour the mill house.  Guess what they were milling?  Corn.  Guess what they were selling?  Corn meal.  Guess who bought some?  🙂   Not sure I’ll make some oven-fried fish, but some corn meal biscuits do sound good.

Talking to Strangers: On Airplanes

I’m the kind of person who would rather talk to my seatmate on an airplane than read a book.  No, I’m not forceful about it.  I simply smile and say hello to them as they sit down.  If they look at me in surprise and just nod, I know they’re not interested.  If they return the smile and hello and make a comment about how full the plane is or the weather, I know I’m in.

Some of you might say “Oh – but what if he wants to talk about nuclear physics for the next three hours?”  First of all, the chances of that happening are slim.  How many nuclear physicists are really out there?  And what are the chances one is sitting next to you?  Secondly, you can direct the conversation.  If his work sounds boring, ask about his kids.  Or the most interesting place he’s ever traveled.  Usually I start out saying, “Are you coming or going?”  Then I get to learn if they’re traveling to see family or for work or for pleasure and take it from there.  Third, have an out.  I have a book on my lap.  You can always say, “I’m at a really good part and want to get back to it.”  They’ll get the point.  And finally, from experience I can tell you it rarely happens that the person sitting next to you is completely boring.  Though that could be simply because I’m fascinated by most everyone.

In all the years I’ve traveled alone (seventeen) I’ve only had one questionable experience.  The lady next to me had Alzheimer’s.  I should have known something was up when her daughter put her on the plane, thanked the flight attendant and then left.  My seatmate asked me what day it was fifteen times before we took off.  Thankfully there was a brilliant man sitting behind me.  He peeked his head over my seat and said, “Hey – want to sit next to me so we can work on that presentation?”  I’d never seen the man in my life, but I loved him instantaneously.  I moved.  And here’s the thing: if you end up having a  bad experience it’s a much better story to tell when you get to your destination instead of “Oh, the flight was fine.”

My new presentation partner happened to be staying at the same hotel as me.  Yes, this could get very bad.  Though I was appreciative of his efforts on my behalf, I found out over the course of the flight that he and his wife were not doing so well.  This happens to me a lot – people seem to feel some sort of immediate trust in me that they can spill their guts about their relationships.  I don’t mind at all really – relationships fascinate me.  However, I wisely decided not to take him up on his invitation for dinner.

On another flight I happened to sit next to a good looking guy my age.  Statistically speaking, this is rare.  We hit it off so well we had lunch together at our layover stop.  If he didn’t live on the other side of the country, we’d have seen each other again.  Neither of us was interested in a cross-country romance.

This thought of talking to strangers crossed my mind today because yesterday I did plenty of it on a train.  That’s tomorrow’s story.  In the meantime, do talk to strangers.  It makes life SO much more interesting.