Cross-pollination

Hawaii

We’re spending the month far away from Alaska, in Hawaii. Time away from our “norm” opens doors to thought and helps me take stock of our current life model. This is where I spell out the way it works for us, and can work for others.

Some of my life’s work is to be a cautionary tale, and I’ve written about that. Hopefully, another role is to be a light house, to share thoughtfully, and to encourage readers to think outside the box…to see opportunity and find flexibility.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “traditional” life with all the trimmings, and we had that for many years…kids, jobs, house, cars, pets…all good. In fact, all wonderful.

But empty nesting is a new chapter, and brings new opportunity. For some, it may not be about empty-nesting. Maybe your opportunity to live outside the box is pre-children, or roaming the globe as a single. Maybe you’re in retirement years and looking for new adventure.

Whatever your path, your choices, likely there are more options that you’re aware of. I find new ideas all the time…unique ways folks are living, working, traveling, and paying for life on the go.

What about you? Have you found new ways to integrate life and work, vacation and the every-day? I’d love to hear about it! And check out the link above for details on how we’re doing it!

~ Sheila

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Hello September!

I know the official start to fall is still ahead of us, but for me, that’s always been the first day of September, so here we are again: in the season of falling leaves and pumpkins and apple crisps and cozy soups. These are a few of my favorite things.

Normally I would be pulling out autumn decor, moving my summer season look to the back of the cupboard and putting out the accents that hint at chill in the air and the smell of wood fires. But at the moment all of that stuff is boxed and I can’t bring myself to unearth it just yet.

I countered the offer I got last week and should have an answer by Wednesday. If the counter offer is rejected, that’ll be soon enough to pull out a few things to bring some fall color to the rooms. After all, the house will still be on the market, and selling is about staging, right? So it will be worth doing a little work to set the right tone. The goal is to have anyone who sees the house imagine themselves living here. And how could anyone do that in September without a little fall foliage to add some color?

In best September form, the sun is warm and strong today, the light lingering and offering hope that the fall rains won’t begin until October. Of course, no month in Ketchikan is free from rainfall. But some years September is an extension of summer, and others it feels like November.

I’m always tempted to look at school supplies in the fall, though I don’t have kids at home now. I look at the school lists in the stores and remember how many years we did that, stocking up and getting ready for the first big day of the new grades. Must run in the family. I know my mom and my daughter are school supply lovers too…just something about a pristine new notebook or box of crayons that have all their tips intact.

I think the calendar year should begin in September instead of January. It would take so much pressure off that month, and the holiday season in general. Maybe we should sign a petition?

Here’s hoping for good weather, a house sold, and the magic of fall, all coming together this week. I could really get excited about that. And it would be a small miracle, especially the house piece. But I’m open to that.

Fall bouquet

Fall bouquet

 

 

Happy day

Today is a happy day. This is our 32nd anniversary. Not a particularly noteworthy number; but though the number itself isn’t special, this year had its own markers that make it unique in our shared history.

The past year took us through big events: Jack’s birth, Alex’s divorce and move, our nephew’s wedding; trips with family, trips to family, family coming to us. We’ve cycled through months of work and weeks of RV time; we celebrated holidays and slug days, weathered stress and counted joys. As we continue to redefine this time in our lives…empty nest, part-time workers, full-time adventurers, finding our joint and separate passions, I learn all over again. The lessons of life, always the same, but presented with new context each time, can be summed up in a few words:

True love isn’t found. It’s built.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys. ~ Rita Schiano

Pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right. ~ Ezra T. Benson

There isn’t enough room in your mind for both worry and faith. You must decide which one will live there.

Once in a while, right in the middle of ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.

Our fairy tale is an unlikely one. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the story is comedy or drama, or if it will end happily ever after. But there is something that keeps us connected, keeps us together. I like to think we’ve weathered enough storms that the future will be all sunshine. That’s unlikely to be true. Life has a way of mixing it up, good and bad all together, sometimes so intertwined that you can’t be sure where one ends and the other begins. But in the thick of it, I know I will look at him, and he will look at me. And we know, we two, what that look means. We know, without words, even without touch, what is passing between us.

So number 32…nothing really remarkable. Except that we made it. And with each passing year, this relationship, with its joys, flaws, sorrows, routines and surprises, grows more rooted in my heart. And through it, I learn, all over again, the lessons of life.

Happy anniversary to my one and only: R.

Nomads on the road

R & S

Learning to write, learning to hear

Rob and I are learning a new skill. At 31+ years of marriage, we are learning a new way to communicate. For all the good that we’ve shared, we’ve had an ongoing struggle with communication. The problem is not one of talking, it is one of hearing. He speaks, and I hear through my filters. That is to say, I don’t hear him; I interpret him. And sometimes he thinks he’s been clear and honest, but he hasn’t said the words that really speak the truth to me.

You can imagine the difficulties this has produced. Sometimes the problems are comical, sometimes frightening. This isn’t about the everyday speech of “pass the pepper.” Of course not. Even I can understand those words. This is about the thorny conversations of life. The what do I need, what do I want, what do I believe, what do I see…the ones that are full of individual angst and opinion. The ones that perhaps can only come after many years of togetherness.

In the very beginning of our relationship it was easy. We were young, we were focused, we had direction, we knew. You know so much when you’re young.

During the child-years, it was busy. We were on a roll, we were in harness, we were co-workers, co-habitaters, co-parents, co, co, co…we largely co-existed. There were a lot of good times, amazing experiences. It was fast and furious. Where did the 25 years of child rearing go? Gone in a blur of schedules, busyness, keeping milk in the house, getting to work, to school, to youth group, to church, to shopping, to appointments, to family, to vacation…wonderful years, but exhausting.

And now, after a few years of empty nest, we struggle. We are different people than the bright 20 year olds who made a life commitment. We are parents and grandparents, but we’re not in the daily trenches of those roles. We are post-career…we are not retired, but work is not all-consuming at this stage of life. In fact, that is one of the hallmarks of this phase. We are working less, making less, but enjoying more. We have margin. We have time, in the off-work blocks of life, to slow down, to talk again, to learn, to grow.

If all this sounds like we are self-absorbed, I would say no…I don’t think so. In fact, we’ve spent most of our adult lives being other-absorbed. And even now, life demands that we pay attention to work, to other relationships, to the needs of life. This is not about staring endlessly into the mirror, or into each other’s eyes.

It is about circling back. About seeing that we long neglected the primary relationship of our lives. We took care of pieces of it. But the real sharing, the real joining…that was largely neglected. I don’t think we’re alone in this. Isn’t that actually the common thread through most American marriages (I won’t pretend to speak for the whole of the married world here…just reflecting on the information I read regarding US marriages.) We come together, we create a life, perhaps we create children. But it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air. It is hard to be intentional and focused on the other adult in the equation with the never-ending need of everything else pulsing day-in, day-out.

As we’ve navigated the past years and challenges of our empty-nest adventure, we have learned some things. We’ve learned to feel comfortable again with a two-some, instead of the four-some we were for many years. We’ve acquired and practiced new skills for our new time in life. And we’ve made mistakes, a lot of mistakes. We’ve learned almost as much from doing it wrong as we have from getting it right. And maybe the mis-steps have been the ones that have waked us up, helped us to see that our relationship has had all it can take of being taken for granted. We’ve used up that credit in the trenches of child-rearing, career-building, and cruise-control.

So recently, after yet another ah-ha moment…a moment when we realized we had talked but not communicated…Rob picked up a notebook and wrote out, by hand, the words he wanted to say. A funny thing happened. I watched him write, and I waited to see what he was writing. Then I read the words, and gave him my response. He responded by writing, again. And I sat and waited, and read, again. And after a few rounds of this, we understood each other; we had communicated.

I’ve had varying degrees of success with writing therapy in the past. In some ways, it is very useful…you can collect your thoughts, express just what you want to say, and be sure you’ve chosen the best words. Or you can write to vent, and sometimes, after you’ve written out your frustrations, you don’t need to share them anymore. The drawback to the way I’ve experienced this in the past is that my writing was via email or texts. And the big ah-ha I’ve experienced with those forms of communication is:

  1. You can never know the time and circumstances that impact when an email or text is read; timing, mood, and context can color someone’s ability to hear your written words as you intended them to come across. You can’t put tone of voice in an email or text. Even punctuation can be misunderstood.
  2. The writer isn’t present to clarify or correct any misunderstanding…there’s no ability to see each other’s face, to be in the moment, so any misunderstanding could percolate for a while before it can be corrected, if it ever is.

Are we crazy? Is there anyone else out there who needs to find a way to break it down? To find a way to understand and absorb what the other person needs to say? Maybe we are outside the norm. I don’t know…having no other experience, I can’t assess that, other than through my impressions from what I read and hear. But something is amiss out there in marriage-land. Something is causing marriages to fail and homes to break apart. And the trend toward divorce at an older age is rising…this gets to the heart of the problem:  The Gray Divorces, Wall Street Journal

This is not a criticism of those who have been down this path. One of the realities of my own experience is a growing humility…I struggle with my own life and spouse…I am hardly in position to tell others where they got it wrong.

But I am able to share something we stumbled on that seems to help. Maybe it is the process of slowing the speech between us. Maybe the magic is in the ability to go back and read the words again, to let them sink in. I can’t say that I know exactly what is working. I just know that something is. We’ve had breakthroughs before, and certainly we’ve grown through our verbal conversation. But writing it down, even if the writing is largely on Rob’s part, and I am still largely speaking my words, seems to be making a difference.

I plan to stay with this grand experiment at life-long partnership. I plan to make it better, not merely co-exist. And so, between the work, the travel, the family, the friends, the errands, the mail, the stuff of everyday life that has to be tended, I plan to prioritize my partner. He deserves that place in my life. I promised it to him, years ago. For much of our lives, we’ve not kept that promise…we’ve run off infusions of togetherness, snatched on vacation, or hot-tub conversations on the weekend, or the big-emotion moments of life. But now, I see that we’re in a stretch…not the final stretch, I hope!…but a place that allows us to live differently. We don’t have to wait for alone time to talk about the big things of life…we have it every day. And we need to learn each other again, well beyond the selves we think we know so well…we need to learn how we’ve changed, and who we’ve become in this fifth decade of our lives.

So when the mood strikes for a deeper conversation…when the topic is something beyond, “what’s for dinner?”…we’ll talk. He’ll do some writing, I’ll do some reading, and respond; and we’ll hear each other. We’ll really hear each other.