Peeling Back the Onion

I had the rare treat of eating my cereal last week watching the waves crash up on the sea wall. I was able to view the steady stream of fishing boats headed out for a day on the water with the exception of the days with a small craft advisory and rough seas. Life slows down a little bit when you are at the “shore” ( aka the beach in points south). I am not typically a shore/beach person but despite all the travels that we make, the annual visit to the Jersey Shore for over 30 years, is always appreciated by Janet and me. We live in the empty nest now and the time spent in Avalon and Ocean City brings back wonderful memories of our family together when our son Jack was a boy.

Although the pace is rather docile for me at the shore, I do appreciate some of the things I see from the seat of my bicycle when riding along the roads of Avalon. The meticulous landscaping of the homes in Avalon is really admirable. It is interesting to see the pristine condition of the homes there and also fun things like the flags of various colleges and universities proudly displayed indicating where the kids attend or the alumni status of the owners. Post Labor Day is a little slower than high season but you still see people clamoring for sticky buns at Kohlers, coffee at the Avalon Coffee Co., and when venturing north to Ocean City, the always delectable Johnson’s Popcorn and Manco and Manco Pizza. Perhaps my favorite is the hot donuts prepared each morning at the end of the boardwalk by Brown’s, a historic breakfast joint. All of this was introduced to me by my wife Janet, as she spent her childhood at the Jersey Shore. Her aunt and uncle have a place there and Janet and her cousins spent summers there growing up, and worked there all through high school and college. Jan has the Jersey Shore in her blood and no matter where we travel through the course of the year, she always looks forward to our time there. I have a feeling that as the years go by, we will spend more and more time in Avalon. Happy wife- happy life.

One thing that was different this year was that Janet and I are on our own now. The car conversations on the way down are different but we truly have the chance to connect. Although the Pandemic has me home and spending more time with Janet, the relaxed pace of a pending vacation , especially a road trip, is well worth the time spent driving. I am used to packing it in on a trip. Ski trips are my thing and the more runs I can make, the better I like it. Gas pedal to the floor and trying to get all we can with a lot of excursions. But the shore trip is different. Slower pace, long conversations on the beach, walks,riding bicycles together, and great books to read while continuing to catch up and discuss things. An interesting point in time on the trip this year was when we visited Via Mare, a classic Italian “go to ” restaurant. The food is always consistently good and the atmosphere is such where you could see Tony Soprano and Paulie eating in the corner listening to classic Italian tunes played on the restaurant Pandora system. I was explaining to Janet about Al Martino and several other Italian/American singers who we heard, when there was a lull in the conversation. I had talked myself out and in that moment of silence, I looked at Janet and appreciated her just like my times at breakfast appreciating the beauty and majesty of the ocean. I didn’t have to entertain her, I just relaxed and enjoyed her, reminiscing on the 32 years spent together as man and wife. The shore will do that to you. It slows the pace and the things that really matter overcome the daily grind and ” busyness” of everyday life. To me, life at the shore is like an onion. You slowly peel back the layers of the complexity of daily living at home, the politics, the Pandemic, the rush rush of daily living, and eventually come to the good part of the onion. What really matters.

I have learned to appreciate the shore. I learned that appreciation through Janet, and her love for the place is infectious. But more importantly, I have learned that life is short and although we are empty nesters now, we have a lot of life to enjoy and do it together. My type “A ” personality is mellowing a bit as I peel back the onion. I am hoping to keep some of that perspective and bring it back home. Thanks for reading.

The Operative Word is “Yes”

This photo was taken over the weekend up at McConnel’s Mills State Park here in Western Pa. Janet and I were hiking and I was experimenting with an app on the I-Phone called Pro HDRX. Pretty cool playing with that and also having an opportunity to spend some quality time with my wife on the trails. Janet and I are ” empty nesters” for the first time in a long time, and trying to be as active as we can in the current world circumstances. For us lately, the operative word has been “yes.” I participate in two major activities with friends but it has been important for me to spend time with Janet and get her more into the great outdoors than she already is, and doing some of the things that I have enjoyed for many years. She jokes that I have had a whole separate life when we talk about my activities over the years and the pre-Janet world. But now, we are in a situation where we can enjoy the time, activities and places together.

I must commend many of my friends who find themselves in the same situation and it has been fun to get together with them because we share the same thoughts about the empty nest and what that entails. The gift of time has enabled us to participate in hiking, cycling,swimming,shooting, skiing and snowshoeing. My wife and I laugh when I refer to myself as the “human crowbar.” I sometimes have to crowbar Janet out of her comfort zone and pry open that door of complacency and comfort. But once she is out the door and participating, she is happy and enjoying the many activities that we can do together. I am a Type A personality and Jan will never be in that mold, but that is why we do so well together. She tempers my enthusiasm where needed and I get her out the door enjoying things that she might not do on her own.

The interesting thing is that we have a lot of time to talk. That hasn’t been the case in many years because we were always on the go with activities with our son Jack as he was growing up. Not unlike a lot of couples. Games, practices, school, and also in the more recent years caring for her ailing parents and the constraints that are associated with that. We have no regrets but we are really enjoying the time together now that we have not had in a long time. We try to be safe in this Covid-19 world. We wear our masks, wash our hands frequently and respect others on the trails and other outdoor venues. But at some point, we will all have to accept some level of risk to be active. That is still being sorted out nationally and also in our own sphere of influence. But we persevere and try to get that fresh air that is sorely needed during this strange time.

Finally, we discuss why we feel the need to be active and go places. Is it just to check the box and say we have been there and done that? Is it because we want to post it on Facebook, or do we really like to participate because of the true gratification of being outdoors and being together. We both think it is the latter and when you see gorgeous scenery even right in your backyard, you appreciate the opportunity. Time spent together is priceless and whether you have a spouse, significant other, friend, or children, the gift of time is precious. The outdoors presents many opportunities to bond in discussion as well as a mutual appreciation of God’s great creation. We are all living in uncertain times and it is important to make the best of these times together. “Yes” is the operative word to opportunity and kindness goes hand in hand with that. Thanks for reading.

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That’s Why I Married Her

You learn a lot about patience when you are confined to your home in times like this. You become aware of things that maybe you were too busy to see before, or maybe just never took the time to notice. For instance, the patience shown by my wife Janet, for her ailing 89 year old mother, Joan, who lives with us. Janet is the only caregiver for her mom and outside of the weekly nursing visits, she is all alone in the care of her mother. Sure, I can assist by going to the store, getting supplies, cleaning up after dinner, and other mundane things, but for the most part-Janet is the one. Every day, every week.

We have someone who will come in and be with her mom when Janet and I wanted to get out,or go away, but now that there is nothing open, that option is tabled. I am sure she is like a lot of women who care for their elderly parents, but to see it up close and personal, is impressive.

I can remember my mom cooking and caring for our elderly relatives and she was good about that. But the difference is that when someone actually lives with you, the neediness as they age, becomes acute and you have to have a lot of patience and kindness in order to take each day at a time.

Janet and her mom are best friends. Sure they have their battles as they vied for supremacy in the kitchen. Two women in one house have different ways of doing things and after many years of living with me, Janet all of a sudden had her mom back in the house living with her. Joan can’t dictate in the kitchen any more. Her years of doing that are over. Strange times and a real need to adapt. We were able to get away before all of this Covid stuff, but as it turns out, Janet’s mom is becoming more needy as the days go on. We are not sure what lies ahead. Outside of the walks outside in the neighborhood, and using the elliptical machine in the basement, Janet has been pretty much confined to the house as is a lot of the population. I have been around a lot more than I usually am but am able to get out and ride some remote trails on my mountain bike and see some of my riding friends in a socially acceptable way. And it is helpful. But my wife, God love her, gets up every day and the first thing on her mind is her mom. How is she? Wonder what she wants to eat today? Does she need her shower? The aides that have been coming have been great, but with the need to isolate due to this disease, their appearance has been suspended to keep Joan safe. So shower time duties belong to Janet. Her mother’s laundry, her pills( how she keeps track of that I will never know), other things that I will not go into here are daily, taxing things that only Janet can do for her mom. Every day, every week, with no relief as long as this Covid- 19 crisis is with us, and beyond.

I try to support Jan by being here but I have to tell you, if I didn’t get out a little bit I would lose my mind. I don’t have the patience that my wife shows and although she gets frustrated from time to time, she is the archetype of what a caring, Christian person should be. Sure it is her mom, but I am sure Janet never thought this would happen. She and her mom cared for her dad while he was infirm in the last years of his life, and now she has the care of her mom every day.

I always tell Janet that someday, she will look back and know that she did the right thing. She extends grace, as grace was extended to her from our Savior. Her mom has macular degeneration, and hearing loss, as well as other life threatening issues. Her life here in our home, is really the best that she could have and it would not be possible without the daily, weekly, attention and care that she gets from her daughter.

Someday I hope she can get back to her happy place. Someday I will look at her and be happy that she found some relaxation. Today I look at her with love and admiration. She is a caring, loving, grace giving, person and that is why I married her and how blessed I am . Thanks for reading.

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Seasons

To paraphrase an often used cliche’,” The only thing constant these days is change.” That is for sure in life and also with the seasons, as we are starting to see with the radiant colors bursting forth with the fall foliage. Whether you are hiking a mountain trail or just driving in your car, you can’t help but notice that the leaves are starting their annual conversion to brilliant hues brought on by cooler nights and dry sunny days. I love everything about the fall. The cooler temperatures, the sweaters and wool hats, that cool crispy morning air that hits you in the face as you make your way out the door in the morning. We are blessed with the daily changes in the foliage which are noticeable for weeks at a time until the spectacular color show ends in late October. Then another change occurs. But what about change?

As I sit in my car and admire the show, I also think about how many fall seasons I have seen in my life and how each one is different and should be appreciated in its own way. I reminisce with scenes in my head of grade school fall soccer with my son. Hikes with him in a backpack and naps in the car afterwards. I go way back and think about my grade school football days where I knew absolutely nothing and just ran around to get my uniform dirty. I think about those first classrooms and the changing kids each year both physically and otherwise. New kids, old kids, kids that had become friends as we played in the piles of leaves that my dad raked in the lawn. Yes the only thing constant is change for sure and it happens more rapidly as the years go by.

Riding my mountain bike in the fall and hiking is another way to see natures portrait and when I am alone, I have more time to think about change. Things have happened in my life that have taught me lessons. Sad changes like death and illness for people once loved and now in their eternal reward. Disappointments, heartaches, and changes that have made me sad……….and happy. Let’s concentrate on those for a moment.

Perhaps the biggest change in my life has been my marriage to my wonderful wife Janet. Today we celebrate 31 year of marriage and though our years together have provided changes full of laughter and tears, the important thing is that we weathered the storms together and continue to do so. We also have had our share of laughs,many laughs,and as they also say in true cliche’ form, ” every pot has a lid.” And Janet has certainly been the lid to my pot of boiling, roiling, mixtures of angst, strain, humor, laughter, heartache,crazy thoughts and outbursts, and miscellaneous issues and feigned solutions all bubbling in that pot. Janet tends to be the level headed and strong personality in dealing with me as I tend to be like my mother with emotional solutions and impulsive and at times impetuous behavior. Trying to fix everything and be the peacemaker. Janet tempers that with thought, and taking that much needed deep breath before she takes the lid off and stirs the mixture into a recipe that can be palatable for our family. I am not the easiest person to live with and she has done it with grace far beyond what I deserve.

As you think about change this fall season, think about whether you have received grace from that special person in your life. Think about how you have given grace and been even tempered and loving in the midst of change in your life. Think about those leaves and how they react to changes in the weather. Are you a colorful light to your spouse, significant other, friends, family, older person? I find myself thinking a lot more about those things as the years go by and the changes that constantly occur in my life. And how absolutely blessed to have someone to share those things with throughout this lifelong season of ………..change. Happy Anniversary dear. God Bless ya!! You are quite the lid to my pot.

” To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
-Ecclesiastes 3 1-8.

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Mixed Doubles

Going on a couples ski trip can be like playing mixed doubles with your spouse. Depending on a number of factors, it can either go real well or not so well similar to playing tennis with your spouse or significant other. My wife Janet and I just got back from a great ski trip to Utah with our good friends Judy and Mike Smith who invited us to their new place in Park City. Along with their daughters and husband/boyfriend, we had an eclectic group of skiers enjoying the sunshine and amenities of Utah skiing. So to continue the tennis/skiing comparison, it started off a little bit on the wrong foot when early in the trip, I had Janet follow me down a slope at Snowbasin that was marked” thin cover”. This immediately raised a red flag to her and along with a whole bunch of skiers/snowboarders trying to pick their way through the section, she was terrified of the conditions and the array of traffic. I associated it with having her at the net in tennis and serving my first serve directly into the back of her head. Not a good start to say the least and like a bad start in mixed doubles, we had to sit down and regroup.

Sipping water and relaxing in the lodge, we had a nice chat and Janet began to feel more comfortable knowing that I would definitely not take her down anything like that for the rest of the trip. We would ski groomers the rest of the time and she would follow me down allowing her to feel more comfortable and relaxed, knowing full well how well she skis in these types of conditions with sunshine and good visibility. Guys who bark directions at their spouses and significant others, oftentimes ruin a good match in tennis or skiing. This is why some people think it is a bad idea to play tennis or try to teach your wife the finer points of skiing. That is also why I make it my business to keep things light with Janet and make her comfortable so that she can perform at the level where she is capable. This is like allowing her to make her ground strokes and volleys in tennis with positive reinforcement rather than the pressure of constant instructions and telling her what she is doing wrong. This misguided instruction often alienates the spouse and can destroy any chance of togetherness on the court or slopes.

Fortunately, the weather was cooperative and although the west is having a poor snow year, what was open at the resorts was groomed to perfection, allowing Janet and the group to ski without any concerns about thin cover, rocks and the like. Another factor in skiing or playing a game of tennis with your spouse is the dynamics of the group that is involved. Our group was fun and all of them can ski/ride well. But we all stuck together and no one pressured anyone to ski something beyond their limits. When you have optimal conditions like good snow, sunshine, and comradery, things go quite well and the competitiveness is at a minimum. Similar to a fun round of mixed doubles with friends. No more whacks to the back of the head with a serve or a smashed overhead intimidating someone from the other side of the net. People perform well when they are relaxed. My wife is a good skier with well schooled skills and it is important for me to keep her in the game. I like skiing with her along with our friends and I keep the inconveniences to a minimum. I have a huge backback in which I carry our boots and helmets and I take her skis wherever we have to walk and only ask her to take our poles. I am like a Sherpa and we all laugh. Not that Janet could not do it herself, but if I can make it as convenient as possible, she will enjoy it better. She also has a bum shoulder which I take into consideration and I don’t ask her to lift anything. It comes with the territory of being an ex flight attendant. Too many bags in the overhead.

The final tennis comparison would be when Janet follows me down the hill, it is like me hitting the ball deep in the corners with a firm ground stroke and allowing her to hit a crisp volley at the net when the opponent struggles to make the return. When I put her in a situation where she can be successful, she excels, and like a perfect volley, or ground stroke, she feels empowered, and enjoys the day all the better.

So, lesson being here guys and gals, if you want to have a good time with your spouse or significant other in any endeavor- patience, kindness, and skill development in an environment that is not intimidating is key. Also, the fun factor. Make it fun. This is not a job. I have had to learn these lessons sometimes the hard way but I am getting much better. Thanks for reading and think snow.