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


 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 papers, scrapbooks, tape-recordings and notes, and most recently, the framed display of dad's medals and citations designed by my brother. I'm delighted that his five great-grandchildren are now 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. As the plane began to tumble, the tail gunner pulled him up and out of the turret and they jumped along with the others on board. Fumbling with the parachute clutched in his arms, it accidentally opened too soon. Floating over France for some 40 minutes, he never lost consciousness and landed hard in a field spraining his ankle. He hid for hours in thick, thorny bushes near Rouen, watching the polished boots of German soldiers round up his mates and evading capture by holding his breath as they "poked around just inches away." 



Taking a chance; he eventually started waving and limping 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." At one home, the family goat was slaughtered and served for dinner in his honor. 
He'd acquired the accent listening to his hosts so well that when he reunited with members of his crew living in the next village several weeks later, they couldn't believe how French he sounded.



After 70 days, the advancing Canadian armored 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 many towns and villages celebrating the liberation of France; finally boarding an RNF 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 my brother 12. 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 brother. Spending a weekend with me one summer in the mid 80's, we all toured a display of B-17's at the local airport. Boy, did he enjoy that! "How did I ever fit into this thing?" he wondered over and over. He loved walking through the plane's narrow interior, recalled freezing cold hands and joked about his buddies. It didn't occur to me to write anything down. Luckily, he grew more comfortable sharing as time went on and agreed to be "interviewed" by me, the family historian. 

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 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 them referred to as the "Greatest Generation!"


With my parents a few months before he died.
He's been gone several 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.




His youngest great-grandkids, twin 3rd graders
presenting at their school's Veteran's Day
celebration.



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. Now...I will give it to my oldest granddaughter as she begins her freshmen year as an art major.  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
                                                                Grandma 

10 Ways to Find Your New Comfort Zone



It was the worst of times when I lost my husband. 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 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.
  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. 









Writing to The Rescue...and Other Writing Process Tips

  this is the first time I've actually considered what it means to write. According to my old diary tucked away in a drawer, I've been writing down stuff since I was 10 years old.  Over the years I've had the privilege to write for various publications and to teach writing skills to children, teachers and college students.  It doesn't matter whether I'm reading someone else's work or composing my own piece...the written word never fails to thrill! 
                                                                                                                                      
Whether relief from worry or a release of joy…writing has always helped me...even rescued me at times from whatever life presented. But the one time writing couldn't rescue me was when my husband passed away. He laid down for an afternoon nap  and never woke up.  

                                                            I could not write.

Losing him after 47 years of marriage was the final blow that destroyed my cocoon. You know; that place that insulates, envelopes and embraces us from birth. I had it all…happy childhood, wonderful husband and the joys of being sandwiched between my parents and grandchildren into my 60’s.  The death of my folks in recent years was hard, but not as devastating as losing my guy. My cocoon was suddenly gone and I was a hesitant butterfly with wings unprepared to fly alone; to find my way into an unknown future. I couldn't write for a very long time. I was afraid to write about death, sadness, pain, guilt and fear.

                                               Mostly, I was afraid to write alone.




He was a writer and editor, a guardian of language and my cheerleader. Earlier that day I took this photo in his office and added the quote he was so fond of. It reminded me how we spent our mornings in retirement; sharing our excitement and joy of the written word over coffee…me from the  op-ed page of our local paper, he chuckling over an article in Sports Illustrated.  I love how much our reading/writing connection kept us close all those years. He proofed every piece I wrote and gave me the go-ahead to publish. More time went by with me filling drafts and notes with random words, but I had no voice with which to use them.

                                           And then I did it…I wrote.

 Putting bits of my usual happy into the terrible sorrow of my heart, I managed to create Till Death Do Us Part. I put in a disclaimer that it was done with no sounding board or editorial check; worried I’d embarrass myself with errors and typos.  I felt both relief and release as the words poured out and made sense; a kind of peaceful  strength when it was accepted. Finally expressing these feelings about loss helped move me forward, helped me begin to heal. 

                                        Writing rescued me after all!



 After six months, I wrote about the things I'd learned and managed on my own in Becoming a Widow. Little did I know that finally sharing my thoughts and experience would not only bring responses of welcome back or well done; but an outpouring of gratefulness for putting into words what others will someday need to know.

                                           Writing became the breeze I needed.

I’m growing more confident with writing now; contributing to blogs and websites and working toward eventual publication of my Dad’s WWII experiences. Somewhere along the way I reached down deep and found that my parents and husband had been preparing me all along in those happy-go-lucky cocoon years. I feel their presence at times with warm, fuzzy feelings of accomplishment or that inner voice that whispers ‘proofread one more time’…definitely my husband!

                               He equipped me really well to fly alone...

 but I’m never far from hands that lift me up on this writing journey. Amazing writers and authors like Kim Jorgensen Gane and our colleagues on Midlife Boulevard continually offer me encouragement and guidance as I learn to soar alone. It’s not a cocoon, but a tribe that embraces me just the same.

 Here is what I've discovered about my writing:

 1)  What am I working on/writing?  I have my parents’ love letters from the WWII years 1943-1945 and I’m pulling bits and pieces of them together for their memoir….or maybe it’ll be mine since they reflect the beginning of me! I have notes and tapes from interviews with my Dad about his experiences as a B-17 bombardier; his tales of being shot down, parachuting into enemy territory, hiding in bushes until he was discovered and hidden by local members of the French Underground for 70 days. I’ve had all this for 3 ½ years…when I said “I want it, I want it all”  as my siblings and I cleaned out the family home after Mom died. It’s overwhelming and time consuming trying to narrow down, connect threads…weave something interesting for my family….for history. I’m also gathering old letters, news clippings and magazine articles about my husband to show my kids and grandkids what a respected, accomplished man he was. Will I stick to the facts with this project…as he always preached...or let the spotlight shine on my voice a bit too?

2)  How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre? I write about family, life and love as others do….but probably much more gushy-mushy, sensitive and emotional.  For many years I was a two-faced writer; news articles for my husband…who weeded out my fluffy, wordy details…and creative journaling in my classroom.  This was where my penchant for over-sharing, over-stating and over-doing colorful sentences really blossomed.  Somewhere along the line he acknowledged this and occasionally turned his weekly column over to me. I was thrilled to add these bylines to my scrapbooks. With a lifetime of diary entries, essay-length letters to family and friends, attempts at poetry and grab-your-attention hand-outs for my staff development workshops; writing a blog was a natural fit for me. However...blogging has its own set of instructions. I learned by reading other blogs and asking questions.  This wealth of knowledge plus continually polishing my own writing finally gave me confidence to join bigger avenues. I was a guest blogger for other sites, had some pieces accepted by More magazine’s ‘My Story' online blog, and was interviewed about writing memoirs for a senior living community. As I grow along….I learn more each day and no longer worry as much about genre or messing up. 

      3)  Why do I write what I do?  I think of my writing as an outlet, not an obligation.  I write because it helps me organize and analyze my thoughts and feelings. I’ve always expressed myself better through writing than speaking. Those elusive connections and words that don’t always pop out automatically in conversation come easier for me through the back and forth process of writing. I’m a memory maker, a Kodak moment kind of girl….so I create windows to look back through….to remember things, savor them, share them.   
Sometimes, like Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think or feel till I write it down.  I like feeling that “aha” moment when the right words come together to say it well. If I can paint a picture with my words and weave stories out of sentences about my family and my life, I am happy. I love how words go together…the rhythm and rhyme of words. I know all words have been written before, but composing them into my own creation defines what is mine.

      4)  How does my writing process work?
 I have unfinished drafts, notes lying around here and there and entries in the journal I use at bedtime; so I guess that’s my start. Sometimes my words flow together smoothly, other times I stumble with word choice; or I fumble with descriptive details when a short, punchy phrase would work better.  My third grade grandson, completing a writing assignment, explained this to me about adjectives: “Describing words can ‘up’ or ‘down’ the meaning...so you have to use wow words to up it.”  Pretty cool!  I go back and reread constantly, visualize and rephrase. It’s all reaction and that’s the key. I’m a fan of the old sloppy copy...get it all down, then go back and react and edit for the technicalities! This is what my husband handled, so now proofreading is a big deal for me. If my son or daughter are around, I ask them to have a read. I send off copy with permission to edit/revise as needed. I’m getting better, but what matters most is if my voice can be heard.  When I covered news events years ago, I worked on deadline. But I don’t really like writing on demand. Writing this today meant it had a due date!  I’m more comfortable writing when I’m in the mood, when I have a fun adventure, strong emotions or trying to figure things out.


Music and standing up are important as well. Since becoming more health conscience and physically fit the past few years, I’m aware that too much sitting is harmful.  My laptop sits waist-high in front of a window where I can see my side garden and neighborhood beyond. With music playing I stretch, wiggle, do leg raises and strengthen balance by standing on one foot. This helps me focus for a couple hours, keeps me limber and makes me happy. Maybe it was years of TV sports talk coming from somewhere in the house...or the Broadway show tune CD's he loved; but the house is too quiet here alone. I listen to Zumba class routines, movie soundtracks, current tunes and my all-time favorite oldies!


Update; May, 2016
I am blessed to have so many mentors and cheerleaders now! Attending my first blogging conference gave me greater confidence and assurance that yes, I am a writer! The best takeaway from Bloggers At Midlife Conference? We never stop learning and growing....Write on! 

All That I Am, I Owe to My Mom

A lovely card arrives in the mail with a touching verse...but when you open it....there's just a signature. This always disappoints me, but not everyone is like me.  If I spend time browsing and choosing for an occasion, I most certainly add a few thoughts before signing, sealing and delivering.
For Mother's Day 2003, I really got carried away; I wrote a message that took up both sides of the card, all over the back... and up and around the edges! It turned into a whopper of a thank you note. Of course Mom saved it....she saved pretty much everything her four kids gave her over the years.




With their 60th wedding anniversary celebration set for the following month, my sister and brothers and I compiled a family video of my folk's long love and marriage. Evidently previewing the video impacted my writing that day.





Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
 me as I was the oldest. I also remember how you always made me feel special! Even to this day you still tell me I'm special....and you know what? I've  always told my kids how special each of them is. Thank you for instilling that in me. Thank you for teaching me how to think with my heart as well as my head, to put myself in other people's shoes; for always believing in a better tomorrow with faith and hope. I still get teased for being too optimistic sometimes....'Pollyanna Joan'....and for not using my head more. But I am what I am and I'm so proud to be your daughter and be part of our wonderful family! 

You and Daddy have given us all the great family traditions, routines, superstitions, "Bickleyisms" and a strong belief in God and prayer. Isn't it interesting that our family has such a mix of religions today......that we were allowed to explore religious paths when we were young. (Remember my first college roommates-a Catholic and Jewish girl?) And boy, did I explore! You never batted an eye when your two Catholic kids, a Methodist and whatever Dave is attend St Andrews Presbyterian with you on our visits home! Thank you for giving me a sense of curiosity and the freedom to try new things. I'm also grateful to you both for allowing us to grow up without any prejudice. In this day and age and looking back on history...I only have to remember riding the bus downtown Detroit and never thinking about skin color....thank you for that.

Thank you for teaching me to find the good in everyone, to forgive and forget and to always believe in myself. As we grow older, I am inspired by the energy and curiosity and enjoyment you and Daddy still have everyday! You are what it means to "grow old gracefully".....thank you for showing me that there is delight in small, everyday things! As much as I love you for being my mother, I love you just as much for your friendship. It's always great fun hanging out with you! 
I am running out of room here, but it's hard to wind it up. You are such a great person, a wonderful woman and I love you now and forever with all my heart!
XXOO Joanie

I'm so glad my parents got to read this card. Exactly a year later in May, 2004, my dad passed away. it's hard to believe he's been gone thirteen years. Mom and I continued to hang out and share lots of good times...right up until the moment 7 years ago when she left to join my dad.  If you've taken time to read; grab this take-away; take a minute to personalize your cards....and find the chance to thank your parents soon!

          Happy Mother's Day to Moms and Grandmas Everywhere!

TRACY AT SIX

This is a throwback post from my daughter's childhood......and my poetry writing phase. As I continue to sort through my binders of letters, diary entries and essays that tell the story of my life...I came across the poems I'd written in the late 70's about my kids, family, life and love. This one really grabbed me; Tracy's daughter...my youngest granddaughter...is now six. And not only do I see similarities between these two...I realize that I knew at age six that she would become the strong, creative, confident woman she is today! This is for you Pumpkin!
                                                                                                   
                                                     
       
   Tracy learned to ski today
    So confidently and free.
              I watched her from the window
       And pride began to flow.
      She sang her favorite songs
             As she moved easily along.
Down a little hill; no fall
                  Eyes always to the windowsill
        Making sure Mom saw it all!
       This child of six is mine.
She is growing, changing, running out of time
                     To be my little girl, my little one.
 
Tracy learned to read today,
Such eagerness, such curiosity.
She is our independent one
Full of strength and versatility.
At six she seems so sure, so aware
Of who she is, and why, and where.
She'll not be walked on in life; indeed
Her character is tough...and stubborn as a weed!
What pride and accomplishment she feels
Blending sounds and letters into something real.
Can I still hold this little one upon my lap
To read stories; did I do enough of that?
 
Tracy learned to wait today.
To wait her turn, to share, not hit.
Such hurriedness, such energy, such wit.
"Wait a minute" we always say, but patience
Is unknown
To six year olds who want it now;
A cookie, mom's attention, how to use the phone.
Throw a fit, cry, off to her room
Waiting can be okay she thinks.
As long as it's pretty soon!
I look at this child from us-
Clever, creative, so humorous.
And I really like her; a like as great as love.
My little girl, my daughter, myself.
 
Joan Stommen  1979
 


Imagination Boxes

As soon as I saw these suggested uses for a box on social media, the ol' light bulb blinked on!

I remembered the joy my older grand girls had years ago and decided I'd do the same for the younger ones. Can't believe I painted this one; attached a laminated top for spills and lined the openings with fabric! 


I found good sizes and shapes from my neighborhood Target, Staples and Kohl's. They were folded but not yet trashed.  I chatted with the customer service folks in each store and asked if there was a best day to inquire. I was feeling pretty lucky by the third stop! Shipments arrive daily; after unpacking, boxes are folded and stored until shredded and/or compacted. Most days there'll be some for the asking!


Three kids over four days and look at the awesome fun we had! Lane chose the largest of two luggage-containing boxes to be his fort. He suggested a box cutter from the garage..."like Daddy uses"...but  none could be found so we settled for sharp scissors. He penciled in lines to follow and I cut an opening for the door. He measured each side and sketched in lines so both windows would be even.
 He was eager to play in it; so I left him alone. He spent hours playing with Beyblades and munching on snacks and sandwiches. Even better in his eyes was when I crawled in to eat lunch with him!

The next day, Paige's idea was to fancy it up with curtains for a house or staging puppet shows. I finally found a use for my Mom's old lace runners! Paige used a glue stick while I held the flashlight and helped keep it even.



 She lured Burney in and barricaded the windows and door....but he shot out of there with a squeally meow that sounded like "no way!"





      The following weekend the twins both stayed over and were eager to play with the box; what a perfect way to capture their time and imagination instead of negotiating TV, Kindle and/or computer time limits! Their store was selling pillows, books and dollhouse furniture for "real money!" They emptied their piggy banks and played for hours. If only I'd video taped it and captured their adorable conversation and comments!




Afternoon temps in the 70's took us outside; but instead of scooters or bikes....they went for the other boxes in the garage and became instant robots!





On Sunday, big brother Drew came home from church with me to see "the awesome box" at Grandma's house.  He spied the rest of the boxes in the garage and pulled them into the living room where we moved furniture for his creation to fit! He didn't need any help.....just stacked them up, grabbed towels, blankets and pillows and became King of the Castle. 

He nestled in and eventually asked for his phone (equipped for games only) and I reluctantly set the timer. Giving me an hour of imaginative ideas and creative smiles was worth giving in...that's what Grandmas' do!














Senior, Single and Seventy 

So you’re a little bit older and a lot less bolder than you used to be” sings Bob Seger; one of my favorites from the 60’s! I’m proud to say I sang and danced to rock and roll all through MY 60’s....just as Rock and Roll Never Forgets; neither have I! My family is used to rock songs blasting in my car; or being coaxed to dance with me when it's played at a concert, theater or store aisles.  But as I approach another Birthday, I wonder if it’s time to grow up and stop acting like a sixty-something kid?  I’ll be 73 this year…along with a dozen of my high school girlfriends who’ve stayed close all these years.

Birthdays have always been a big deal in my life. I don’t care how old I am, I’ll always want a cake, presents and fun celebration. Even if it sounds like this:  "Wow! You are a very big number" as my youngest grandson exclaimed last year.  I get as excited about mine as they do ...courtesy of the 70 plus years of   ‘birthday wisdom’ I’ve accumulated. My parents made our birthdays a grand and festive occasion. My siblings and I would dress in our Sunday best; and because we each shared our birth dates with a grandparent.... it was even more special! As we grew older, our grandmothers took us shopping for new clothes (as I now do with my older grand girls!)   On my 13th, I had a party with both boys and girls…..and listened to rock and roll of course! I was thrilled to receive gifts of single dollar bills; at the time it seemed like a million bucks!

I find great joy in celebrating others' special day as well!  As soon as the first grandchild came along, I started celebrating Half Birthdays! It worked out well with the older two as their days are exactly six months apart. The three younger ones have winter birthdays.......too long to wait till next one!  So Grandma makes sure there's a spring time celebration for them. When our kids were young, we posted signs around the house with photos and proclamations of how awesome they were........a tradition they carry on now with their children. While my folks were still living, they called each grandchild and great-grandchild to sing Happy Birthday over the phone! My Mom would send cards with money in the amount of how old they were.....something I wish I still did. I love giving wrapped gifts!





I’m blessed that my family supports my indulgences. They jumped on board for my 65th celebration at the beach. We rode five miles on our bikes, counted 65 steps in the sand....six times sliding down the ship's pulley rope, five times up and down the fire pole........you get the idea! I received 65 balloons from Mom and 65 M&M's from the grandkids! Yes, they’re catching birthday fever from me!



Sometimes it’s an even-bigger-than-usual-deal! One year I flew over the snow on a dog sled in Alaska with my oldest granddaughter. I spent another birthday in Australia climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge.   I was totally caught off guard when my sister invited me for dinner…..and I walked into a room full of friends shouting "surprise" on my 50th!  A few years ago my Mom sent me a special gift.....a beautiful necklace with the birthstones of my five grandkids! Some years it's just sweet and simple....like a yummy cake, cards and a few kiddos. I was an educator for over 30 years, and even though my birthday often fell during Spring Break, room moms and colleagues always made sure there was a gift, student-made cards and a cake each year. No wonder I'm spoiled!













My gal pals and I will be meeting for our annual gathering in Michigan again this summer. We’ve stayed in different places over the years; places where we can shop, eat and talk……mostly talk! There’s nothing better than catching up and sharing stories of our lives. This year we’ll be toasting one another during our collective celebration at Greenfield Village. I can’t think of a better ‘big deal’ way to honor my birthday than with these amazing women who’ve been together through it all! 
The 1960’s gave me my start; I graduated college, got married, began teaching, and had my first child. I taught aerobics, learned to hook a rug, renovated our lake house and honed my gardening skills.  By the time I reached age 60….I’d had another child, moved cross-country three times, received my masters degree, became a principal, worked as a fitness trainer, learned country line dancing and welcomed three grandchildren!



My 60’s brought two more…twins! And then…retirement, travel and discovering Zumba, paddle boarding and blogging! I survived uprooting my kids, finding new jobs in new places, financial woes, illnesses, graying hair and the loss of my parents. The sudden death of my husband brought me to a standstill for awhile…..but I’m surviving. He helped grow me strong and equipped me to carry on; to welcome this new chapter in my life.


Senior, single and seventy....wow! This is how I see it; instead of aging, I’m increasing in value! I’ve got grandchildren, wisdom and energy. I've had 7 perfect decades of life and love; wonderful friends and neighbors from all the places I’ve lived and worked and I'm ready to embrace whatever unfolds in the years to come! That’s very valuable indeed!   

Seger closes Night Moves with this; “strange how the night moves with autumn closing in.” Slowing down a bit maybe, but I’m not done dancing.  Autumn is also called Indian summer…..still lots of time to grow older and bolder; to learn, laugh and love some more. 





Becoming a Widow...10 Things I've Learned

               10 Things I have Felt, Observed, Learned and Accomplished 
                           Since Becoming a Widow

Losing my husband unexpectedly was like a merry-go-round that suddenly stops! Our marriage ended when he didn't wake up from his afternoon nap. I've been on an emotional roller coaster; wandering through financial mazes and unknown pathways into this world of widowhood. 'You cannot start a new chapter unless you stop re-reading the old one' the saying goes. And yet I cannot put the story of our Great Adventure down. Over and over I revisit the memories and what might have been. Nothing prepares you for having your life interrupted and forever changed, but over the last six months I've learned to be a little braver and move a bit more forward as I face life on my own.

  • Your Adult Kids will step up and do what needs to be done. Let them. They will give you strength and comfort as their spouses comfort them. They will use their talents and resources to make things happen. They will shield you when necessary....but give you that push you may need at other times. They will give balance to decision making; knowing when to take over ....and when to step back and respect your choices. My son and daughter were hit hard with the loss of their Dad and their kids' grandfather.  I'm still amazed at how well we got through it and have never been prouder of my children.
  • Ownership of credit cards, vehicles and houses make a BIG difference in the debt and varying shades of red tape you'll face! Two of our cards were in his name only; I was an authorized user. I don't recall us ever considering this or being asked any preference. Visa was quick to write off the balance; American Express not so much. They inquired regularly about the estate, but the calls finally stopped when my lawyer explained there was no estate; no probate. Collection calls are frightening; know your rights and seek legal help if necessary. Our cars and home were in both our names.....with the house having the important "joint tenancy with survivorship" clause in the contract! 
     
     
  • Finances I had to think about money. I sold his car and refinanced the house; reducing my payments by $600! My husband was retired, but did free-lance writing for several publications. I would miss that income, so I had to make changes quickly. His insurance money came within weeks; but it took awhile to secure results with Social Security and our pensions because frankly.....it didn't occur to me for months to pick up the phone; and the processing took more time. Stopping newspaper subscriptions, reducing cable, phone and internet to the minimum needs... and discontinuing pest, weed and lawn services helped make a dent in monthly expenses. Doing without car washes, hair appointments, Starbucks or browsing Target taught me I could live frugally while waiting to get things settled! Someone told me it takes a year to really know where you stand with your financial future, so I continue to be wise and careful.
  • Accepting comfort is not always comfortable; but you quickly learn you have more grace than you ever imagined. I'm a hugger and a crier, so that part was easy! I answered questions truthfully, but without much detail. It was raw and private in my opinion; giving CPR, the paramedics suggesting 'cease and desist.' As phone calls and texts started coming, I replied to some; my kids handled the others. The doorbell ringing with gifts of food and wine was awkward. I didn't feel like eating or serving anything; couldn't think about dishware, napkins, glasses. And so I said as much. I recall now that my pals took over the kitchen and handed me a plate and drink. I just let it be....and they just let me talk. The stack of sympathy cards was overwhelming. Do I respond? I've saved these comforting words and have acknowledged each one little by little. I don't think it's expected, but that's me.

  • Kids' Views about death are amazing. My grandchildren touched my heart and saved my soul with their sweet innocence. A child cuddled on your lap is peaceful glue that holds you together. Their questions and comments are spot on: "grandpa got dead; now it's a grandma-only house" and "don't worry, grandma, I'll help you understand sports!" I laughed through my tears at "grandpa will be a writer in the sky." Two months after he passed away, my teenage granddaughter spent a week with me. She listened and talked with me like an old friend; asking how our story began, and remembering all that she missed and loved about grandpa. Our first; she knew him the best and the longest. All five attended the funeral... each with a role to play.  Helping with the photo and memento displays, manning the guest book, passing out programs and, to my delight, the second oldest spoke the welcoming words as the service began.

  • Handling the fog and heaviness of grief is tough because you don't know when it's coming. Music will do it, a kind word, an older couple walking hand-in-hand or just roaming through your home with reminders of him around every corner. Some days you feel uncertain, unsteady and unanchored; I learned to stay put and let the teary sadness come. Be careful if it grips you while driving; scary to wonder where you are, where to turn or where you were headed. I had to pull over and wait it out. Other days I'm eager to get to the gym or store or lunch with friends. Joining a grief group allowed me to face my anger over his leaving; and keeping my grandkids on weekends helped strengthen me and ease the pain. The kids wrote notes and drew pictures for grandpa in heaven. Surprisingly, this nonchalant celebration of him makes me happy. One day at a time is absolutely true!

  • Everyday adjustments like cooking, taking out the trash, killing bugs or figuring out why the dryer doesn't work takes time...but will build confidence. These things my husband handled; now I use his tool box, keep a shoe handy, take my time in the grocery aisles......and what I cannot do, I put on a list for my son, son-in-law and neighbors. This is part of the deal....learning to ask for help. I built and lit a fire during the winter storms and made tacos for myself. However, I'm hanging clothes in the great outdoors until the dryer fairy comes. I was spoiled, dependent and well cared for; so it's not easy taking charge of my house and my life. But, like the good witch told Dorothy, I've "always had the power." Buying and preparing nutritious food has been my biggest challenge, so figuring things out for myself and asking questions is another step in the right direction. 

  • His things versus our things will make you stop, think and question...probably forever. I lowered the cable bill by removing the hundred dollars' worth of sports packages he loved. Terrible guilt...I'd complained over the years...but it had to be done. More hand-wringing cancelling three papers. Newspapers were us. We met working on our college paper, he was an editor in various cities and newspapers meant coffee and lively discussions in our retirement years. His shirts and pants are still in the closet; but I did donate his warm sweaters and jackets.  His recliner is still 'grandpa's chair.' His office we call the den now. I work at his computer sometimes, but the pictures and posters, the model car, the lanyards from every convention he attended are part of him....thus a part of me. I sold his beloved jeep; where he let the grandkids pile in the back and ride dripping wet the half block from the pool. The fab five will always be ours...becoming grandparents created our future 16 years ago.

  • Honoring his wishes and his life are huge responsibilities. We'd discussed what-ifs during our 47 years together and assured each other we were having a wonderful life. He felt strongly about cremation and wanted his ashes spread on the lake where he grew up. It was a beautiful ceremony. We held two services in two different states; one was taped and made into DVD's for us, the other was photographed and made into a photo book; treasures forever. I'm filled with joy when I get all green lights, find lucky pennies or hear the twins ask how God will let Santa know not to leave presents under the tree. Whether a spiritual connection or the humor in everyday things, he is close. I tell him about my day at bedtime; and say 8-13 (our anniversary date) morning and night as was our habit. The holidays went smoothly with the support of family and friends who made sure he was included...using his recipes, lighting candles, giving toasts. Framed photos of him sit in every room and I smile now when I glance up and see a reminder. We always knew someday one of us would be left to carry on; keeping his light burning is part of that commitment.

  • Moving forward will seem like two steps ahead, one step behind. Keeping busy helps; for me it's been cleaning house, going back to work and volunteering. Hazy, blue days just need the comfort of time passing....so I write, I read, I cry. But there is much more to beginning this new chapter. First, I asked who am I now? Is my body still attractive? Am I single or a widow? Will my goals and intentions change?  How can I be confident in all that I do without my cheerleader? It's not easy rediscovering self-image...reinventing a future. Initially, I worried about being the only one left....that I'd die too. I stopped exercising and driving at night and was afraid of shadows. It took my doctor's push to get me back in the gym. I was needed in the evening hours, so I drove. I eventually stopped leaving lights on at night and slept just fine. Memories don't bring tears so much anymore, but rather joy in understanding that his love equipped me for what's ahead.

 My mom showed me how to age gracefully, but I remember how she hid her grief and slowed down after my dad died. So consider this; what a great gift it can be to show our kids how to live the end of life. I want to keep traveling, learning and playing just as my husband and I did. Can I do it alone? Will I find a companion? Should I sell the house? I'll find a new future, but I'll still read the chapters of my past once in while. I feel an inner whisper that tells me I'm making progress.