Accepting Change this Year


Bundled in sweats and blankets, I'm trying to avoid using the old furnace if I don't have to. But it's cold here in front of the window where I write. And I feel like writing for a change! Most of the time I'm so busy I don't notice the cold....or I go out and walk or rake leaves as it's often warmer outside than in. The small tree is up and trimmed and there are three light-up decorations in the yard. That is enough. Three grandkids here every weekend mean each can play a role in getting this Grandma-only house ready for Christmas. Carrying the tree in and setting it up; getting the boxes down from the attic, choosing favorite ornaments and which yard stuff to use, playing the holiday music boxes over and over.....at the same time! They love this collection that grew each year from after-Christmas sales; something Grandpa was really good at!


This second Christmas without my husband has been so much harder. Losing him was still too fresh in my head last year; I still operated on the momentum that had carried me through two services and  helped me maintain every routine and tradition through Halloween and Thanksgiving and the kids' Birthdays and then....Christmas. My daughter insisted I spend the night at her house; sharing that Big Day with her in-laws; once solely their domain.
This year has been full of positive change and growth; finding my independence and some kind of forward path. But it's still hard. Cold, rainy weather dampened our annual cul-de-sac's sit-outside-with-neighbors Halloween celebration, so I got a pass on that. With the exception of maybe two or three out of 47 years, my husband stuffed the turkey and cooked the whole Thanksgiving meal every year in all our homes. This year my daughter hosted it at her house. And this year, I'm heading to my son's for Christmas....to his home on the beach in California. Yeah, big changes. And I am okay with this. Together we are showing the kids and ourselves that it can become different while keeping him very much alive in our hearts.


We used to call the beach town where our older granddaughters live our second home. We went for months at a time; keeping tubs of clothes, our bikes and an old classic car in storage till next time we arrived. Less than a month after he died, I hopped on a plane to CA to walk the beach. I rode my bike down our favorite palm tree-canopied streets and along the boardwalk all the way down to Surfer's Point. Funny how I could feel him beside me; I usually rode fast so stayed ahead of him; other times he'd have had enough and head back first. It's been 15 months since I've been back. Apparently I've missed so much. We knew the neighbors around our beach rental; participated in community events, volunteered at the girls' schools, belonged to the library and the local old-car group. Now the Pacific Coast Highway is blocked by mudslides, (meaning Hwy 101 on my ride from the airport....yikes!) and local seaside restaurants are either closed for the season or undergoing renovations (from weathered charm to shiny new does not appeal.) Some of our favorite pals have either moved or gone away for the holidays; sure wish things could always stay the same.


But it will all be good....the best thing in the world to see my family and share in their traditions and plans. Both teenagers still want to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. They'll ride bikes with me and my son's idea of entertainment is to walk along the keys and see the light displays on all the boats! A beachy Christmas and lots of good memories here!
 I've had some great days,weeks and months this past year on my own. Unexpected and different, but in mostly good ways. Now as December winds down and I welcome 2015 with my California kids, I accept things being different, things changing and that things become as they are meant to be.



Follow The Fence To Safety; Evading the Enemy


I am honored to share this with a greater audience for Veteran's Day. Only in his later years, did my father finally agree to let me interview and record his memories and experiences from WWII....thanks to my kids who wanted to write school reports about him. I have copies of their old papers, the scrapbooks, tape-recordings and notes I made and most recently, the framed display of his medals and citations designed by my brother. This year I am delighted that the next generation....his three youngest great-grandkids....are sharing Grandpa Bickley's story in their classes! 



 On his 18th mission in July, 1944, my Dad's B-17G Bomber was hit by flak while flying over France. He parachuted into a field near Rouen and hid for hours in thick, thorny bushes; evading capture by the German soldiers and holding his breath as they "poked around just inches away."
Taking a chance; he eventually started waving and walking toward a young boy pushing a plow. Pointing and gesturing excitedly, the 12 year-old indicated my Dad should "follow the fence" to the back of a farm in the distance. The farmer's family welcomed him into their home and quickly summoned their neighbor; a Count and wealthy landowner who headed the local French Underground.
The small village of Preaux was ready to do their part; having agreed before hand how it would work if an allied soldier needed protection. With new clothing and a new identity, my Dad lived for two months with various families. He grew a bushy mustache, went by the name of Pierre and quickly improved his high school French.



S/Sgt. Bickley was a turret-ball gunner.
It became a scary "game of hide-and-seek" with German troops searching barns and cellars daily and Dad riding his borrowed bike to a different place each night. When he and I talked about 15 years ago, he told of the relaxed and "homey" meals prepared by the farm wives and how all the kids called him 'mon oncle." He'd acquired the accent listening to his hosts for so long that when he reunited with members of his crew living in the next village several weeks later, they couldn't believe how French he'd become! Perhaps they didn't blend in as well as he did!




 After 70 days, the advancing Canadian ground forces made their way to Rouen. With his altered appearance, clothing and accent, he had to convince them he was indeed an American! He traveled  with the allies through towns and villages celebrating the liberation of France; finally boarding an RAF warship across the English Channel and back to his base in England.



A month later, he was back in Detroit to visit family and see me...his newborn daughter! He continued to serve as a pilot trainer in Texas until his discharge the following year. I never heard him talk about any of this growing up; didn't know a thing about it until the night we had a special visitor. I was 16 and allowed to stay up late! A news team arrived at our house just as my father returned from picking up Count Francois de Boisgelin. It was a big deal; this photo and article hung on the den walls for years; proudly showing off the citation of "gratitude and appreciation from the American people for gallant service in assisting the escape of Allied soldiers from the enemy." Signed by President Eisenhower, copies were given to members of the French Underground as well as the airmen whose lives they'd saved....but whenever asked about it, Daddy never offered more than we already knew.


 The Detroit News; Spring, 1960



Years went by and bits and pieces would emerge whenever he discussed war-related things with my uncles or my brother after his return from Vietnam. Spending a weekend with me one summer in the mid 80's, we all went to tour a display of B-17's at the local airport. Boy, did he enjoy that! "How did I ever fit into this thing" he repeated over and over. He loved walking through the plane's narrow interior, remembered his cold hands and joked about his buddies! It never occurred to me to write anything down. Luckily, he grew more comfortable sharing as time went on. By the time he agreed to be "interviewed" by me....the family 'historian'....I was ready to record. He never mentioned fear; "we just knew what to do and did it" he said nonchalantly about the moment they were hit. Sweet details like Francois checking on him every week and handmade hand-me-downs that he thought too small, but were in fact just the right size for a skinny guy on the run. 
   In researching details to add to the medal display, my brother found that all crew members had survived the plane being shot down that summer day. It was nice to learn that they'd either been hidden as my dad was or captured as prisoners of war....and all were eventually rescued. I've shared this with various organizations who preserve the integrity and heroics of WWII veterans and I get teary-eyed every time I hear these them referred to as the "Greatest Generation!"


With my parents a few months before he died.


He's been gone 10 years now. Healthy, energetic and always ready to try something new; he passed away a few days after getting light-headed after his daily walk and chores. Yes, he'd had a heart attack at age 50, but as he told me minutes before he died; "I've been thrown a curve ball....they say it's my lungs!"
The WWII Memorial opened that fall; something he'd been looking forward to. My husband and I were among the first visitors; placing copies of these articles and photos along with so many others who'd come to honor their Greatest.




Walk Like a New Yorker

 "Why are we the only ones saying excuse me?" I wondered out loud as we made our way to dinner our first night in New York City. I was carefully noting the numbered streets and avenues at each intersection while trying to avoid people bumping into us or quickly pushing by. "They're all in a hurry and very rude!" my granddaughter said righteously.

We finally found the lovely Joe Allen restaurant; walking down steps into linen-tablecloths, celebrity photo-covered walls and a menu with eye-widening prices! Toasting each other with a Shirley Temple and gin and tonic, we hungrily ordered chicken Caesar salad and an Angus burger...perfect meals after a long, snacks-only travel day. The only kid and grandma duo among the suits and theater-going couples; the servers were eager to welcome us and offer fun suggestions.







Over dinner, we discussed the people in the streets; they think we're 'just tourists' said my sweet girl with teenage sarcasm.There seemed to be a method to their madness I suggested.....do they just barge along and others know enough to dodge them? How annoying we were stopping for photos; in awe of skyscrapers, bright lights, piles of trash and people cutting in front of moving vehicles.





The next morning we headed to Pier 83 in rainy, chilly wind. As we politely lifted and shifted our umbrellas so as not to poke anyone...while getting poked and dripped on ourselves...she figured it out!  "It's like dodge ball" she announced. Watch this! And she quickly walked ahead, zigging and zagging to avoid those coming toward us as well as those following behind. Me...not so much.

 Trying to control my umbrella, holler don't go too far ahead and not  bump anyone...I wasn't catching on at all. Why don't people stay to the right like suburban malls, walking trails and airport terminals? On the Lady Liberty cruise she chastised me for not seeing how easy it was. "Don't be so nice, don't keep saying excuse me, Grandma! Just go!" Not my style, darlin', I tried to explain. Walking back, head down against the wind and chilled to the bone, I suddenly didn't care if I stepped in someone's way. Enjoying hot chocolate and a cupcake at the Cake Boss CafĂ©, I was congratulated with "you did much better, Grandma!" Oh no!  Was I setting a bad example by praising her hustle-bustle street smarts; showing my age fretting about manners?

We walked everywhere the next few days; from 5:30 AM through empty streets for the Today Show to the late evening theater crowds around Times Square. But it was the mile-long walk from our hotel to the Empire State Building when "walking like a New Yorker" finally kicked in. I watched for openings and darted to the left or right, scooted around strollers and luggage-pullers, crossed against lights, quickened my pace passing slow walkers and never once excused myself! But I smiled a lot! Smiled and people smiled back. They respected me and understood I knew what I was doing... at least I like to think so! I had the confident stride and knowledge of where I was going. (A straight shot down Fifth Avenue!) I let her go ahead, saw her glance over her shoulder with pride as she checked on me.

 What easy freedom it is to walk the City streets when you know how it works. You feel the energy of aliveness and purpose and realize those who live and work in the city are just decent, caring people going about their business; hoping the next visitor figures it out sooner rather than later!








Advice For a College Bound Daughter

I have the letter my mom wrote to me and left under my pillow that first night in my college dorm room after the family had moved me in, hugged me goodbye and driven away. I gave it to my daughter the day she moved into her college dorm room....only I handed it to her and told her to read it after I'd left for home. I will give it to my son's daughters when they're off on their own; and hopefully my daughter will give it to hers when the time comes. It is the kind of letter that says exactly what every girl needs to read, to know and to feel at this moment in time....and my Mom said it best.


Mom and I saying goodbye as I begin my college years

I was off to Western Michigan University to become a teacher in the fall of 1962.  Just 18, the oldest child of four including the 'little kids' ages 3 and 5; moving two hours away from my Detroit home to live and learn in Kalamazoo was a big deal! Mom depended on me, so letting me go was hard for her. She knew I was excited and we'd had all the talks; but mostly....she understood this was a great leap of faith and growth for me. Her letter was perfect comfort and confidence in knowing I'd be okay.



for you and D, K and B. Maybe we haven't always done things wisely, but all that we have done is because of our great love for you kids. Looking back, there were things that would have made your life happier, I'm sure, but you have had a wonderful life as it is. Do you understand what I'm trying to say my darling? I believe with all my heart that you're going to do wonderful things someday and you will learn best by living the best life that you can.
                                        Joanie, you are going to run into many different kinds of situations and temptations of which you have no knowledge; but we have enough faith and love in you to know that you can and will handle them all to the best of your ability. Remember time and again of why you are and where you are, and what it means to all of us. We will miss you, but if you are happy then we won't mind so much.
                                           Do what is right for you; weigh your decisions, then be happy with your choice in what ever you do. Pray to God each night Joanie, and give thanks for everything as I pray each night thanking him for giving you to us. We are very proud of you and know you will do everything to make us keep on being so proud.  We are always here whenever you need us.
                           Goodnight my darling, sleep tight and give thanks.
                                                         All my love always,
                                                                Mother

In just two more years my oldest granddaughter will head to college; I'm confident these words....with her name inserted.....will be just as appropriate and meaningful as it was for me fifty years ago! 

10 Ways to Find Your New Comfort Zone



It was the worst of times....losing my husband just about a year ago. My perfectly happy comfortable life melted away in a matter of minutes. I look back now and believe it was the worst time in my life....but not the worst year. Grieving and growing for 12 months has brought challenges, surprises, discoveries and highlights that have created a new comfort zone; a new kind of happiness and a whole new me. 

                                       This is what I found:
  1. Weight loss is a good thing. My recent check up showed I've lost 12 pounds since last summer. My clothes are too big; but my aches and pains are gone, my lab results were excellent, I have more energy and my eating habits are green, clean and lean. If I use the hot cycle on the washer and dryer, I can shrink an outfit a bit and wear it once.  I took a few favorites to the alteration lady and discovered pants in the junior department fit best right now. Thanks to my sister, my nutritionist and online fitness blogs, I've leaned how to buy fresh farm-to-table-food and prepare healthy meals with little cooking!
  2. Strength is not just for men. I needed to do the heavy lifting, hauling, pushing and pulling now....so weight training took on a different meaning. I am so.much.stronger! I actually see a little definition in my arms.....but that underarm jiggle is there to stay at my age. Planks and bridges are great for your core....and fun to do with little ones. Having my weights on the living room floor and music always playing means I can do a few sets here and there all day long.
  3. I look at overall fitness differently too....no more Zumba and Pilates just for the fun of it.  I work my butt off to stay alive and well. Walking, swimming, spinning, yard work and floor play are all part of active aging. 
  4. Patience.  Be it spiritual, common sense, everyday hassles....I'm growing less anxious and more accepting. My husband constantly reminded me not to fret; not to sweat the small stuff. Even in girlfriend gatherings, someone would remind me not to fuss, worry or try to take care of all the details. When I accidentally switched my iPod to shuffle I had an "aha" moment.....it's okay to not know what's coming. Acceptance and patience are peaceful.
  5. Living in the now...living in the moments around you. What better place to learn this than on water with boats and geese and paddle boarders floating by and you're lost in serenity and aloneness. I listen to my breathing, laugh at the cat more and delight in walking to the end of parking lots to my car because I find coins. This week I found 47 cents! I find happy moments everywhere just looking and listening. I had to give it a go on purpose at first; now it happens naturally when I'm out and about. 
  6. Friendships new and old. I am lucky to have so many villages full of friends. It did take all of them to give me strength and support in the beginning.....but now I treasure each and every one who has stuck by me. The ones that knew I could do it....and who cheer me on as I evolve. Family, forever friends, neighbors, colleagues and my online pals......thank you.
  7. I'm still working on financial awareness, but it's getting better. I've become more frugal, stopped more services and taken advantage of lower rates by refinancing the house again. Remember I was spoiled and careless....now I'm cautious and annoying; "don't waste a french fry" I say to the grandkids. "Grandma can't afford it" I remind them when they want to hit the mall or a local restaurant. But they understand and hopefully learn from it. Someday I will take each one on that vacation of their choice we promised years ago.
  8. Writing opportunities are out there and I have great mentors. But I don't have the same discipline or the drive to strive for compensation. There was another writer in the house in my old comfort zone; perhaps I'm leaning toward a new avenue or passion. But you know I will always write. I'm still a work in progress here....zone, where are you?
  9. Ask and you shall receive. I have become more comfortable asking for help and advice when I need it. Whether phone calls, store personnel, neighbors or needing a place to stay....I know I'll learn through others' thoughts and suggestions. Kindnesses that I'll pay forward; this too grows a better me.
  10. Self image and confidence. I never thought I'd manage without my cheerleader. I didn't think I'd move forward let alone on my own. But my soul inside is resilient and less vulnerable. Or maybe it's more vulnerable but in a good way. I know I'm looking and feeling good. I'm making good decisions and showing my children and grandchildren how to live life as it comes.  This makes me comfortable and happy with myself again.