Monday, February 29, 2016

My "Extra" Day

What a beautiful "Extra" Day ~ Leap Day 2016!
"If it happens today, it didn't really happen," said the voice in my car radio this morning on my commute. "It's an extra day! A bonus!”—another shouted when I clicked to a different station.
Today, FEB 29, is leap day—the day inserted every four years to keep our calendar operating smoothly. This extra day makes the year 366 days long.
Since I am not in the market for the deniability offered by the first DJ (not today, anyway), I got to wondering what I would do or should do, if I knew this was truly an "extra" day. Not to be too maudlin, but if this was it, the end, the finale and I were gifted one more day, how would I spend it?
That sure puts life right in perspective. I have allowed my energy to be drained and my enthusiasm to wane in the last few days because of negative comments made by others. I have spent hours explaining, apologizing, cajoling. Just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap or eat chocolate—did I mention I am on a 3-Day Cleanse? So I pray I wake up tomorrow for a do-ever because today (and much of last week) is not how I would choose to spend my “extra” day.
It might be easier to start with what I would NOT do on my “extra” day. I would not complain, whine or roll my eyes. I would not waste one second with people who are not kind to me and my family. I would not do anything involving money.  I would not workout or worry about what I eat. I know that’s terrible for a Beachbody coach to admit, but it’s the truth. I have often joked about a “Last Supper,” referring to what I gobble down before starting another fitness challenge. To really know it was my last supper, I don’t even know if I would want to waste the time eating. Just writing that literally gives me food for thought.
Family fun last summer.
What would I do?
On my “extra’ day, I would wake up early—like I normally do—because I wouldn’t want to miss a second of that precious day. More importantly, I would wake up next to my husband (we currently live in two cities and visit on the weekends). I would hot tub with him and sip wine—I am aware wine is not a breakfast food, but this is our extra day. I would call all the people I love, unless I could gather them around me.  I would want to see my dad, sister, brother, all our family members and the sweet friends I have collected over the years who know me better than I know myself. I would tell them I love them. I would give hugs freely to people I encounter and share with them the gift of my extra day.

My favorite days are when we gather with the Fish Kids.
I would hope the Fish kids would be with me. Whether they were with me or not, I would write them each a love letter, although I know there are not words for how much I love Kelsey and Cory.  As my fellow mamas know, that love is indescribable and only gets stronger as our babies grow away from us.
I would breathe deeply and appreciate the weather, the sky, the breeze, the leaves. I would savor the sounds of life—dogs barking in the distance, children calling out, birds.  I would also savor the gratitude that I feel about so many things in my life, like the rush I get when I pull up my driveway and realize this is our sweet home or the real rush I get when I pick Tony up on a Friday night at the train station and know that the next two days are ours.
I would take a good long, final look around and think, “I hope I have loved enough and given enough.”  And then I would look up and say, “Thank you.”
And if I am honest, I would add, “More, please.”

This mama friend is missed by so many.
 Ruthanne knew how to live life to the fullest.

But Wait, There’s More….

I am embarrassed to admit that I cried when I wrote this. It surprised me how my tears flowed, until I realized I was crying for Ruthanne, my mother and Tony’s mother—the mamas, who left too soon.

My sweet mama. I miss her everyday.

Tony's mama.

Friday, January 29, 2016

OOPS! Never a Dull Moment...

This is what 4 AM
 at the Rabat Airport looks like.
I can cross sitting in a dark airport alone in Morocco off my bucket list, since that's where I am as I write this.
After a fabulous, nearly flawless week in Morocco with our daughter celebrating our January birthdays, I apparently needed a dramatic finale.  My birthday was yesterday and we celebrated all day—it was great. The morning started with crepes and hot chocolate, followed by a massage for me at a fabulous spa (thank you, Kelsey!) and then a beautiful lunch in a garden at a French CafĂ©. Next some minty Moroccan hot tea at a hotel and some shopping. We later took a walk and then showered and went out to a yummy Moroccan dinner. Cake and champagne followed in the apartment that Kelsey shares with Laziza.  I packed my suitcase and got everything ready for an early departure to the airport. Kelsey had thoughtfully arranged a taxi ride with a driver she knows and trusts. He was scheduled to pick me up at 5 AM. The plan was to sleep a couple of hours and then head to the airport.
Celebrating Kelsey's birthday.
Well…that would have lacked a certain level of drama that I apparently crave. Around 1:30 AM, I decided to glance at my itinerary for the first time since arriving in Morocco. I read it to say that my flight was leaving at 6:40 AM, not 7:55 AM.
PANIC ensued!  What to do?? I would never arrive on time if the taxi picked me up at 5 AM.  Unfortunately, the driver was apparently sleeping (as most folks are after 1 AM) and did not answer the multiple calls made to his phone. So, Kelsey was sweet enough to call another driver she knew of and ask him to come early. He said he would (for double the price), so it was arranged. Laziza was awakened more than once to speak in French to the driver. He needed extra help finding the apartment.
Cheers to me...
just hours before my panicked
and unnecessary early trip to the airport.
I got scooped up by 3:15 AM and arrived at the airport at 3:40 AM—after asking the driver to stop looking at his Facebook as we sped through the mostly empty streets of Rabat. When we pulled in front of the airport, it looked suspiciously dark. Amazingly, a porter ran out to get my bags (and garner a tip). Once inside the completely dark airport, I realized the schedule in my backpack was wrong (or I was sadly mistaken). My flight actually does leave at 7:55 AM. The airport opens at 5 AM.  Luckily, a security guard told me to have a seat and wait…
So that’s how I find myself sitting in a dark, empty airport in Morocco. Sleep is overrated anyway. And besides, this will make a much better story to tell…later…much later!
My apologies to my awesome hosts, Kelsey and Laziza. I had a fabulous time in your beautiful city and it looks like I will get to enjoy one more sunrise from my perch in the airport. I hope you both get a few hours’ rest.
But wait, there’s more…
Unfortunately, the airport internet would not let me post this, so I am posting it after landing at Dulles International Airport, where I watched the sunset as we deplaned. What perfect symmetry...a sunrise in Morocco and hours later in Virginia, a sunset.
I am often accused of being a little Pollyanna about things. Despite my natural tendency to look on the bright side of situations, sometimes finding that shiny side can be a challenge. But, this crazy departure story already has me giggling. There are a couple lessons for me here:  check and double check my itinerary early and often and don’t create panic until double checking the airline schedule online, but where would be the drama in that?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sleepless in Morocco

I am sleepless in Morocco.

Today our baby turns 25.

Kelsey is our oldest child.
Our firstborn.
Our girl.

Kelsey--or as she preferred to be called when she was 4 and usually sporting a pink tutu, "Princess, Barbie, Kelsey Christine, Clarice, Be My Guest, Beauty Belle Fish" or some variation of that long string of titles--has never lacked in style. Even at 4, Kelsey was defining herself and making a name (or multiple names!) for herself.

Kelsey was an early birthday gift to me 25 years ago in that military hospital in Seoul, Korea. My birthday is two days after hers and holding our newborn girl, I was grateful for her and full of hope for what she would become. Even in my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined half of what Kelsey has accomplished already. Kelsey is in Morocco on a Boren Fellowship doing graduate research for her Masters in Global Communications from George Washington University. Our spunky girl moved to Morocco on her own in September and has made a life for herself from scratch--and it's a sweet life full of friends, travel and experiences she will never forget. What's even more amazing is that this is not her first foray into living abroad.

Starting her freshman year at The College of William & Mary, Kelsey lived in Beirut, Jordan, Berlin and Morocco (the first time for a summer, where she studied Arabic in a program sponsored by The State Department). With each of these relocations, she hopped a plane alone and created a life for herself. The shy girl who would have her younger brother, Cory, go ask for ketchup for her at a fast food place because she was too afraid, has found her voice and conquered her fears.

So that's how I find myself in Morocco.

I find myself sleepless because I want this moment to freeze. I am remembering a time when my mom came to visit me in Alabama and my husband, Tony, was away. Kelsey and Cory, were young. My mom and I shared our king-sized bed and giggled like school girls and even then I knew that those days were special. As I enjoy this week-long slumber party with our girl, I just want to cherish every second. We are making promises to always celebrate our January birthdays together with some dedicated "Girl Time." I will hold us to those promises.

What I remember most about that day 25 years ago in Korea is how over-the-moon happy I was holding our sweet girl. I wanted to freeze time then too.  Seeing all that Kelsey has become I am glad time marched on. While I find myself wistfully wanting to freeze time again, I know Kelsey's story is not finished yet and mine isn't either. I can't wait to see what our beautiful, smart, kind girl will accomplish next.

Happy Birthday, Princess.


But wait, there's more...

I haven't written a blog post in months. My writer daughter inspired me to get going again!  Cathy Jones, Sheryl Ellis and Heather Conroy have also encouraged me to charge on. Strong women are amazing. Thank you to all the strong, loving women in my life--especially the birthday girl.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Hug Tour Coming Near YOU!

My dad, an awesome hugger!
Hugs. I love them. Love to give them. Love to receive them.
Defined by Merriam-Webster’s (Yep, the dictionary still exists!), to hug is “to put your arms around someone especially as a way of showing love or friendship” and “to stay close to (something).”

That explains my love of the hug.
Prayer Warrior, LaDonna Burr,
giving me a "squish."

Who doesn’t want to express friendship and stay close to folks we care about? I have an awesome job where hugging is not only allowed, it is encouraged. I work at a church. Wednesdays are a midweek hug fest because the 10 AM Prayer Group is a wonderful group of huggers. They range in age from their mid-60’s to mid-90’s and when I ask if they “want a squish,” they respond with some warm hugs.  That human connection is so important.

I have said before that I believe social media (despite contrary claims) helps bring us closer to people. We can keep up with grandbabies, graduations, and weight loss. We see vacation photos and exchange words of encouragement or humor. We can even arrange to visit when we learn that a friend is headed our direction for business. But, nothing replaces the human connection and eye-to-eye contact. That is why I have developed what I call, “The Hug Tour.”
LeeAnn Capps--brief encounters
 of the hugging kind!

If I am going on a trip, I try to cram in as many physical meetings with people I care about, no matter how brief those encounters might be. I have run over to Reagan National Airport to hug a friend as she climbed out of an airport shuttle before scurrying in to catch a plane back to Alabama. I just ran into that same friend in the lobby of the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. I was checking in as LeeAnn Capps was checking out, but we shared some laughs, a few hugs and of course, a selfie (or two!). Now when we email, text or Facebook message, the connection seems deeper because we have SEEN each other.

Kathleen Tresser sharing hugs
 & lunch near the airport.
I appreciate the friends (like Kathleen Tresser) who will meet me for a quick lunch near the Sacramento Airport in California before I hurry off to see family in Redding. Or Trish Clarke, who volunteered to drive me back to Sacramento two days later, saying that the chat in the car made the more than 2-hour journey (each way!) worth the trip. That’s love! Trish is driving across country in her RV as I write and we will be hugging and chatting in early May! And then there’s Terri and Mario who always put me up for the night in Sacramento and drive me at the “butt crack of dawn” to the airport the next day as I fly back east again.

I have enjoyed recent Hug Tours in Alabama, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Nashville, California and Washington. When I let folks know that I am on a Hug Tour, it sets the expectation that there is only time for a brief, but important visit. Expectation management is a big component of a happy life. Expectation management and hugs  The world is small and life is short and unpredictable, so let’s get to hugging!

But Wait, There’s More…

Guy Farris, a hug from the past!
Yesterday I got to see a high school friend, who I had not seen in years. Guy Farris had messaged me on Facebook that he would be in DC for a few days for business. This week, my life is crazy and it was a stretch, but I left work to hop the Metro and meet him for lunch (and a hug and a selfie!). I am so glad I did. I left our lunch, thinking that I need to spend more time with Guy. We had some fun times as teen-agers. He just reminded me of the time when with a couple of my girlfriends (who shall remain unnamed to protect their reputations), I thought it would be funny to embarrass “poor Guy.’ So when he walked out to my parents’ backyard where we were in the hot tub, we tossed our bathing suits out at him and said, “Hi, Guy!” We had assumed he would be embarrassed. Wrong. He calmly shut the hot tub bubbles off and we had to beg him to throw our suits back to us. What is that expression about never assuming?

Friends with long memories can keep us humble. Plus they give great hugs.

Friday, March 13, 2015

One Fish, Two Fish, New Fish

In my haste to get my "spring" hairdo,
 I talked a friend into cutting my hair
with paper scissors in my kitchen!
Amy Smedley met me for lunch afterwards.
 She did not cut my hair!
When the clocks spring forward, the whining begins. For all of their grumbling about winter, my Facebook friends screamed even louder about the time change. For me springing forward an hour is a welcome sign that spring is mere days away and who doesn’t love spring?

Birds start singing, flowers are blooming and summer is right around the corner. Love is even in the air—there is a reason there are so many spring weddings and songs and poetry written about spring. Spring is full of promise, but spring also calls me to “spring” into action.  

The onset of spring pulls me to make a fresh start even more powerfully than the desire to make New Year’s resolutions. At the first hint of thawing snow, I am making my mental “to-do” list: pedicure (flip flop season), shorter hair (for the heat), more exercise (less clothing, and therefore less camouflage and—gasp—anticipating swimsuit season), clean house (sunlight shows dust), plant flowers, wash windows—you get the idea—all while taking time to enjoy the beautiful weather.

Maybe it’s the very definition of the word, “spring” that makes me take action. Spring’s synonyms, “vault, hop and leap” encourage action. The first birds chirping and even a hint of sunshine has me planning to reinvent myself—in addition to a new hair style and  weight loss, larger items, like a potential career change join the possibilities  this mild, hopeful season brings.

For me spring cleaning takes form in not only washing windows and vacuuming carpets, but in decluttering my life. This is a time of renewal and each year I get to decide what will make the cut. It’s time to look at habits, friends, family, hobbies, and time. More spring synonyms “originate, emanate, stem and evolve” call for me to dust myself off, shake off any cobwebs and evolve into a better me.

Spring is full of promise: flowers blooming, sunshine and breezes—an appetizer for summer. I feel full of promise too. I will take time to appreciate all that is beautiful around me and enjoy time with family, friends, and most importantly, my husband.  I will weed out the timewasters (cancelling cable is at the top of my to-do list!) and enjoy the fresh produce that will become even more plentiful in summer to nourish our bodies as we continue to nourish our souls.

Watching the snow melt & the cove thaw.
Another definition of spring is to “move rapidly or suddenly from a constrained position.”  A therapist could have a field day with that one, but for most of us it means taking our exercise and activities outdoors after a winter in hibernation.  Spring can also be defined as to pay for a treat for someone else (as in to “spring for”) —or my favorite, “to spring someone out of jail.” Hhhmmmm…

It’s no wonder that for me, spring means freedom, joy, fresh air, reinvention, renewal and hope.  When the clocks sprung forward last weekend, it was as if Nature listened—the snow began to melt, signaling the beginning of a myriad of promises I make to myself and a long list of to-dos.  On Monday I will join a group of folks promising to spend the next 21 Days getting into better physical shape. Our Challenge group is called “Hotter on the Boat.” Me?  Why not? Spring is after all, a hopeful season.

I want to take the time to enjoy all that the season promises of beauty and romance, which  sounds like a tall order for a season wedged between what was a cold, snowy winter and what will likely be a hot, humid summer, and yet, I feel hopeful. How could I not? The birds are singing.

 But wait, there’s more...

My partner in all things including fitness.
 Spring is also a special time of romance for me. Tony and I got married May 20—31 years ago. I still have to pinch myself that he is the guy I am spending my life with. We were so young and acted impulsively, and it has been the best, fast decision I ever made! Spring this year also signals our son’s graduation from West Point. He will be springing into his next chapter as an Army officer at Flight School. Where did the time go? Our daughter will finish her classroom graduate work this spring and head off for a Moroccan research adventure in the fall. Life is coming full circle. Just like the seasons.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Remembering Ruthanne

I can see her bouncing into my office and telling me in great detail all about that terrible morning.  One of her cute knit caps would be tilted to one side, and in a “can you believe this happened to me” way, she would tell the story as only she could tell a story.

Only this did happen to her and she will never tell me or anyone else about the day she opened her front door and was gunned down.

Ruthanne Lodato died just more than a year ago. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday—still raw and fresh.  I cannot always get my heart to accept what my brain knows.

Ruthanne was a bubbly, tiny woman who loved her knit hats and would fidget her small hands around while she told a story, almost as if she were acting it out. She was a loyal friend and devoted to her extended family, but especially to her daughters, her now 90-year-old mom and her beloved Normie.

Besides her family, music was her passion. She played in churches and taught piano for years, but she seemed to really light up when teaching the very youngest to love music too. Ruthanne brought music to Alexandria, VA’s youngest set nearly 20 years ago when she started a Music Together business in Del Ray United Methodist Church. Infants through 5-year olds would sway, clap, dance and sing with glee at the classes she taught three times a day, most days.

When I started working at Del Ray Church some seven years ago, I was lucky enough to meet the energetic music teacher. Always friendly to everyone, she would pop into my office to say hello before teaching each day. Soon we couldn’t get all our storytelling done in 15 minutes and started meeting for lunches and then spending her rare weekdays off going to movies or having adventures. 

Ruthanne  enjoying a boat ride on Lake Monticello.

One of our "play" dates.

Ruthanne loved to amuse her students on Halloween.
I loved the time we went to a Spanish movie with English subtitles only to have to watch over the sound of toddlers laughing and running around the theater—apparently the movie was a favorite for several nannies. Or when we were flea marketing our way home from Lake Monticello and found a whole set of furniture for Ruthanne’s oldest daughter’s porch.  We could hardly see, breathe or move after we crammed my 15-year-old minivan to the brim with the furniture and even had to return for more. Or just days before she died,  when Ruthanne took my dad to her favorite Italian Market only to find it closed on Mondays and she and my dad pressed their faces to the locked glass door and willed the place to open (it didn’t work).

At a memorial window dedication in Ruthanne’s honor last week, the assembled wee ones sang “How Can I keep From Singing” with their wonderful Music Together teachers who have continued Ruthanne’s great work.  It was a moving and fitting tribute to a woman, who even in death brings us together to laugh, dance and make music. She would have loved to tell that story.                                                           

 Music Together teachers dancing in celebration of Ruthanne.
Ruthanne's family rocking out.

Some of the wee musicians.
But Wait, There’s More….

Being at a loss for words is usually not a problem for me.  But this story is different. There is no happy ending or funny punchline.  But despite that, there are blessings even in the sadness. I am honored to have gotten to know Ruthanne’s amazing family and some of her many friends. Even in death, Ruthanne has brought light to my life. She has also reminded me that there are no promises of tomorrow and I need to live each day as the gift it is.  Miss you, sweet friend.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

30+ Years & Still Smiling

Me & my handsome Valentine.
My Valentine and I have been married more than 30 years now so I thought I would write something clever like, “Our Top 10 Tips for Staying Happily Married.”  It always seems that those list-type articles grab my attention in magazines…so why not, right?  Well, I asked my husband over a yummy Japanese lunch (hold the rice please and bring extra veggies!) to give me his top 5 reasons why our marriage works.  This was met with a blank stare that quickly turned to panic. “You are catching me unaware,” he complained.  Never mind that the same handsome guy with the panicked look just hours before gave me a beautiful Valentine’s Day card, in which he wrote at least 3 reasons why we work. Tony knows how to express himself well in greeting cards. His messages always make me cry because he writes what he would never say out loud. I treasure those cards.

”How about just your favorite reason we work as a couple,” I pressed on.  He said, “You cannot print it.”  OK then.

Our discussion quickly turned to some light jabbing that continued as we walked into Food Lion to buy dinner fixings—because eating lunch makes us anticipate our next meal and we decided years ago that we stink at Valentine’s Day so we stay home and mostly ignore it.  I offered that our marriage works because I tolerate his hats. My man loves his baseball caps, derby hats, Stetsons, beanies—you get the idea.  He countered with, “Our marriage works because I tolerate your rhythmic breathing when you sleep.”  Tony is nice enough to lie to me and claim that while I do NOT snore, I often breathe rhythmically and sometimes rhythmically, loudly. 

Goofing around at our lake house.
As I am typing this, I realize that the reasons we work are all right here.  We work as a couple because we enjoy each other. Tony is my best friend and favorite port in any storm. We laugh together—sometimes even at each other, but always at ourselves. We adapt well to situations. We eat Valentine’s dinner at home after many failed attempts at Valentine’s Day dinners out  (one ending at a fast food joint where we both snapped at each other because we failed to make reservations and every place we tried was booked and we had already burned through $50 in babysitter money before settling for grabbing a burger).  It works for us.  We have also learned some expectation management. Expectation management should be part of wedding vows.

My guy cracks me up.
We dream together. Over our Japanese lunch, we were busy making plans and dreaming out loud. I love that.  We also are getting healthy together (skip the fried rice, please) and sharing common goals makes us work as a couple.  Cheering for each other when our interests are different is how we roll too. Tony has run marathons and I have run along taking photos, ringing a cow bell and holding up a sign. I am proud of his accomplishments. He will be the first one to read this blog and encourage me to write more.

We do tolerate the things we don’t love about each other. I try to ignore those hats and I have even grown to love his beard. He puts up with my snoring (I mean, rhythmic breathing) and all the curbside treasures I drag almost weekly into our home.

And then there are the reasons that cannot be printed…Happy Valentine’s Day!
But Wait!! There's More... 

I want to thank my Valentine for braving the cold temperatures to go outside and get some much needed repairs done. Tony and John Stenz (our awesome neighbor and favorite party animal) fixed some erosion problems on the side of our house, which included digging a very long trench in our frozen yard.  That says "love" to me.  J