Marriage is Beautiful

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Dear Reader:

What do you see when you look at this piece from the talented blogger at as much cake as you want? Are you happy for the couple on the street and sad for the one at the table? It’s all about perspective.

As a young woman, I would have looked at that man and woman sitting a million miles apart at the same table and thought: no way, never going to happen to me. I probably would have concluded that if it got that bad, I’d leave.

But, I’m not young any longer. I’ve been married for thirty-four years and I think the drawing perfectly illustrates the reality of long-term marriage. In my mind’s eye, the two couples could very well be one in the same captured at different moments in time.

The man and woman at the table may be poised to forgive one another. Maybe something quite unexpected will happen that will clarify both the beauty and fragility of life. Perhaps they will be drawn closer together in grief or joy. Or maybe the idea of a life without the other will suddenly become too difficult to imagine. Of course, it’s possible they’ll be separated soon, but it’s just as likely that the lovebirds on the street won’t stay together.

It’s hard to know about these two couples, but I do know that my husband and I have looked like both of them through the years. We’ve been close and we’ve been distant. We’ve appreciated each other and we’ve taken each other for granted. We’ve made mistakes and we’ve learned a few things:

  • It’s the tough times that can serve to really cement the union.
  • If you choose wisely in the first place (as I did), marriage is worth the effort.
  • Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful and marriage is never perfect.

Michele

 

 

Another Anniversary; Another Cup of Java!

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I wonder how many cups of coffee we have shared?!

Dear Reader:

It’s been thirty-four years since I said “I do” under a massive oak tree in my in-laws backyard in Fresno, California. On the Monday and Tuesday before the ceremony, high temperature records were set that still hold today… 107°. I knew we were off to a good start when Mother Nature blessed us with a pleasant 90° for our big day.

In the years since then we’ve shared domestic bliss and turmoil. We’ve lost grandparents, parents and a sibling; created an amazing daughter; owned six dogs and lost three; purchased four homes and sold three and endured one high-powered high-tech career. Who knows how many bookstores we’ve visited or San Francisco Giants games we’ve watched?

We’ve nearly called it quits, too. But, it seems, our decision to marry at twenty-four years young wasn’t as crazy as it seemed to our parents.

The poet e.e. cummings captured what I feel for my husband and put the words on paper:

this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) 

We’ve outlasted the oak tree and I’m hoping we’ve got another thirty-four years of togetherness.

Michele

P.S. As there is never any photo-shopping on my site, I chose not to retouch my husband’s thumb. He suffered his injury building the fence to keep Winnie IN!

Coco Chanel’s Favorite Flower Blooms in My Garden

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My husband, displaying a perfect white camellia in our garden!

Dear Reader:

Even a brief visit to a museum tells the story of the close relationship between artists and flowers. In fact, the memory of some painters has become entwined with the blooms they admired. We will forever associate Vincent Van Gogh with the sunflower, Georgia O’Keeffe with the poppy and Claude Monet with the water-lily.

But, painters are not the only creative people to draw inspiration from the garden.  French designer and business woman, Gabrielle Chanel, loved the beautiful, short-blooming camellia or Chinese rose. Nearly 50 years after her death, it is still one of the most instantly recognizable emblems in all of Chanel’s accessories, clothing and jewelry.

How did the camellia become such an integral part of one of the most successful fashion houses in the world? It is thought that the Madame became entranced with the flower after reading Alexandre Dumas’ ‘La Dame aux Camélias’ (The Lady with the Camellias) as a young girl. The heroine of the story always wore a camellia. The flower’s symbolic value was also important to the designer. In Eastern culture, the white camellia represents purity and longevity. Coco also appreciated the fact that the camellia is without scent, and, as such, didn’t interfere with the perfection of her signature scent, and my favorite perfume, Chanel No 5.

I’ve always loved fashion and recognized designers as the artists they are. I do not live a haute couture lifestyle, but my admiration for Chanel’s style aesthetic has influenced my fashion and style choices throughout my life. She believed in simplicity, elegance and comfort. She was the first designer to suggest that women dress with their daily routines in mind. She radically promoted the notion that woman should, first and foremost, dress to please themselves.

Chanel loved the ease of black and white punctuated with stripes and loads of faux pearls. With the stroke of her pen and the scissors that famously dangled around her neck, she transformed men’s wear into elegant, feminine clothes for the modern woman. She also gave us the little black dress (LBD) back in 1926.

If you too admire Chanel’s aesthetic, but not the price tag, I recommend these lovely Target (TGFT!) finds:

If you are not lucky enough to have a garden full of camellias, like me, you can also purchase a lovely bouquet of artificial camellias.

I cannot deny the beauty of the white camellia, but I reserve my greatest affection for pink roses. And in the spirit of Coco Chanel, my favorite flower inspired me to create a pink shed and then…from the pink shed.

What’s your favorite flower, dear reader?

Michele

Oh, How I Love Cyclamens!

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“…a cyclamen that looks like a flight of butterflies, frozen for a single, exquisite moment in the white heart of time…”
Beverley Nichols, Down the Garden Path

 

Dear Reader:

Tis the season for cyclamens! These wonderful flowers look good in my garden in white, in my home in red and in my shed in pink, of course!

I’ve read that on the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus they grow in great drifts of thousands of plants and fill the air with fragrance. Perhaps, someday I’ll see that, but for now they have arrived in great quantity at my local nursery.

I came to associate the flowers with Christmas when I began dating my husband in high school. His mother, Mary, has a bright green thumb and she has always decorated her world with growing things.  At the holidays, the entrance to her home was filled with white cyclamen. They sat in a long line on a console table underneath a large mirror. It was a simply elegant way to greet visitors, and it remains a beautiful memory for me.

Mary will spend Christmas at our home this year, and there will be  white, red and pink cyclamens to greet her!

Michele

We’ve Been Married Forever

 

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A tiny chocolate bar to share!

 

“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

Rita Rudner

Dear Reader:

Well, the chocolate wrapper and Rita both said it well. But, I’ll add my voice to the chorus.

Thank you, dear sweet husband for:

  • picking me up when I fall, literally
  • racing to the store to buy me Motrin and forcing me to ice my ankle
  • understanding when I want to throw a rock through the tv screen
  • remembering the details of my life sometimes better than I do myself
  • eating at my favorite restaurants over and over again
  • helping me when I have a technology glitch
  • picking me up when I fall, figuratively

During this month when I reflect upon all of my blessings, I begin with you.

Love,

Michele

P.S. Not really forever, but 32 years is a long time!

Puppies are Good for Empty-Nesters

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A Favorite Photo-My Husband Admiring our Baby

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:

Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%

That involve cats: 1

Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!

My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book.  There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.

Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.

It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”

Michele

P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.

All You Need is Love (all together now)

“Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.”

Caitlin Doughty

 

Dear Reader:

Death has come again and taken the life of another in my circle of friends. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote to you about a friend who lost her father quite suddenly. Today I learned of the passing of another man. He was a husband, father and grandfather who took great joy in the companionship of his family. Indeed he spent the morning at the pool with his grandchildren and the afternoon with his wife and daughter before he passed quickly of an apparent heart attack.

The lives and deaths of these two men have raised questions among my friends. The questions are old and yet they seem new again when one is confronted with loss. Why do some live long lives and others die young? Why do some suffer? What is the meaning of life now that I know this will happen? When and how will my loved ones die? And, ultimately, when and how will I die?

I have friends of all ages and the youngest ones are just now facing loss as adults. It is quite a different matter when a young child loses a grandparent or great grandparent. I can still remember the Christmas morning when my then four-year-old daughter looked at her great-grandmother and commented: “You are very old; you will die soon.” The room fell silent until Gigi smiled and took her great-granddaughter into her arms for a hug.

My daughter does not remember making this bold statement nor does she remember her great-grandmother. It was in fact a year and a half later that Gigi passed at the age of 96. We were surprised the day we got the call as we had anticipated that the next death in the family would be that of my 36-year-old brother. I lost my brother two weeks later, a year after his cancer diagnosis. I was newly 40 and devastated.

My brother was never given any hope that he would live longer than a few months; he lived a full year. Friends and family offered to finance a trip for him and his wife as they’d never left the country. My brother chose instead to live the last months of his life simply. He devoted time to housekeeping,  sorting and gifting his possessions and putting papers in order. He spent time with family and friends. He shared his deep faith and complete confidence in God and an after-life with anyone who would listen. He created art and he enjoyed the companionship of his wife and dogs in his comfortable home and in the nearby mountains.

I watched my brother die…closely and attempted to make sense of it all. It made no sense and yet it informed me and inspired me. I can never explain why the youngest member of my family was the first to die. I still don’t think it was “fair.” I still believe he should be here with me to exchange a laugh or two about how hard it is to get older. But, he accepted his passage with such courage and calmness that I could not help but do the same.

His death gave me the opportunity to ponder life and all the old important questions. I concluded years ago that the Beatles said it best…”all you need is love.” I have loved and I have been loved and, in the end, that is the only thing I need.

Sincerely,

Michele

On Marriage

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Panna cotta to celebrate our day!

Dear Reader:

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. We met in high school at the precise time my parents’ marriage was unraveling after 18 years. My mother in law and father in law had already celebrated fifty years of marriage when he died ten years ago.

One can never fully appreciate the dynamics involved in any marriage, but I feel that I am now in possession of a few truisms based on my age and experience. (I am choosing to write about everyday, hum-drum marriages, not those that involve violence, alcoholism or severe mental illness.) Here’s where you can decide to indulge me my opinions…or not!

First, it seems silly to say that “marriage is hard work,” to the extent that everything is hard work: children, friends, careers, pets, housekeeping, gardens, garages, fitness,  writing …LIFE. Anything worth having is hard work.

Second, marriage counseling can be instructive and enlightening. About ten years ago, it seemed likely our marriage would end. I don’t think the counselor saved our union, but two moments from that experience have stayed with me…one in my head and one in my heart. The first seems so obvious, BUT there is Michele World and there is my Husband’s World. These are different places, and, as such, the reaction to any marital event or communication will be interpreted differently depending on which world leader you ask. The second moment came when my husband said that it had felt like we had been swimming alongside each other for so long that it was odd to look up and not see me there. (Lovely sentiment and interesting as I can’t swim!)

Last, yes there are only three (I said a few)! Whenever anyone asks for my “secret” to  maintaining a long-term marriage, I always say the same thing: “Don’t sign the divorce papers.”  I’m sure my parents’ choice to end their marriage shaped my thoughts and I am not proud to say that I was the one who, at one time, felt that leaving was preferable to staying. Thankfully, we both chose to stay. And, ultimately that is the secret…make the choice to stay.

At 57 years of age, the graph of my life would look like that of most people, I assume. It’s a roller coaster ride, and I am grateful and proud that for more than half of it, my husband and I have been in the same car.

Sincerely,

Michele

Mean Mothers

Dear Reader:

As we drove home from Southern California yesterday, my husband asked me, “Does Mother’s Day upset you or make you sad in a way?”

I knew exactly what he meant, but the question still took me by surprise as I was quite happily surveying grape orchards and remembering the events of the weekend. If you know me from my blog, you know how proud I am of my daughter and the close relationship we share. If you are one of my dear friends, you begin every visit with the question, “How’s your daughter?” I love talking about my daughter. I simply adore her. She is my single greatest source of pride.

So, why should Mother’s Day in any way upset me? Well, the answer has to do with my mother. She died three years ago on the morning after my daughter had major surgery at Stanford Hospital. In life, my mom had loved being the center of attention and so the timing of her death seemed appropriate.

One of the nurses heard me take the call from my sister and she became immediately quite concerned about my state of mind. My daughter was scheduled to spend four days in the hospital, but she would need continuous home care for several weeks. The doctors and nurses, my husband and I soon realized, were training us to take care of her at home. Her release would be determined not only by her condition, but also by our ability to care for her. The hospital chaplain was alerted to our situation and within the hour began appearing at our door. My husband shooed her away several times while I snoozed, but she was determined to talk to me.

“Ah, good, you’re eating!” she exclaimed as she approached me late that night in the cafeteria. “I’m Dusty, the hospital’s multi-faith chaplain and I’m here to see if you’d like to talk.” Really I just wanted to eat, but I was polite. I thanked her for her concern and let her know that I was tired, but fine, and that I knew exactly what I needed to do:  take care of my daughter. “But,” she continued, “it’s hard to take care of someone else when you are suffering yourself.”

How could she know that was exactly what I’d told myself for years when I thought about my mother? She was simply unable to be kind or nurturing as she was in pain. The explanation served to protect me from completely absorbing the constant emotional assault she inflicted on everyone close to her. My mother died without having a relationship with me or knowing her only grandchild. “She’s no longer in pain,” I told Dusty and I left her to interpret the comment in any way she chose. I returned to my coffee and eggs as she left finally satisfied that she had done her job.

A week later I found myself speeding down the freeway to attend my mother’s funeral. I paid my last respects to the woman who had created me and who had, I think, helped determine the happy course of my life.

“You know we may not have Natalie if it weren’t for my mother,” I answered my husband.

I missed out on having a strong bond with my own mother; maybe that’s why I finally decided at 35 to throw away my birth control pills!   We all make choices and those choices are often based on needs we may not even consciously be aware of. Maybe I needed a strong mother/daughter bond. I did not have that with my own mom, so I set about to create it with my daughter.

It has been many many years since I felt anything for my mother, but it took time and counseling to resolve issues from my childhood. It seems to me that it is still taboo to speak about one’s mother in anything but appreciative terms, but for those readers who can relate to my story, I’m sorry… and I’d like to offer the following book recommendations: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep and Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black.

I’ll borrow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to perfectly describe my feelings about my life: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else…”

I am so fortunate to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughter. Happy ending!

Sincerely,

Michele 

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Flowers from my girl!

Dear Reader:

I am lucky enough to be spending Mother’s Day weekend with my daughter! One forgets how good food is in a college town: donuts, pizza, bagels and smoothies oh my!

Best wishes to my dear friend, Courtney,  mother of four girls all under the age of nine, and hugs to my mother-in-law, Mary , who gave me my wonderful husband!

Love,

Michele