Thoughts on Longevity

Celebrating 33 Years of Marriage at a Gordon Lightfoot Concert

Doug and I had already made plans for our anniversary, but then I saw that Gordon Lightfoot was playing an intimate concert on our actual wedding date. Could we pass up that opportunity?

In my memoir I recount how Doug and I sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as we paddled about on Lake Superior in a canoe on the weekend we met. Those two crooning young people still live in our memory, even if they have passed into middle age! And can you believe that Gordon Lightfoot is still performing at age 78, even after life-threatening illnesses?

I cancelled our plans for a night in the Northern Neck and bought the tickets. The Birchmere is an unusual place, for true music fans. The seating is general admission so you have to arrive early. Once you’re in the venue, you’re seated at tables and can order food and drink, so there’s the conviviality of eating a meal together. I loved meeting the people around us. (more…)

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A Few Pics from Our Trip to Glacier NP

what a privilege to travel with my husband & my mother!

Mom, in her tiny sleeper car on Amtrak’s “Empire Builder”


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Targeted at Target

a conversation with a stranger

Yesterday I was at Target comparing brands of facial cleanser. I am super-cheap about this kind of stuff.

A woman said “Excuse me.” She was in her thirties, I would guess, a woman of olive complexion and dark hair, with an infant strapped onto her chest. She said, “I ask you in the name of Jesus.”

I must have looked confused, because she repeated it twice more. Finally I got it, and said, “Ask me what?”

She gestured to her shopping cart, which had 4 cans of Enfamil in it.

“Do you need money?” I asked.

“No! No! I need help buying these.” Her English was broken.

“Do you need help with your food stamps or something? With WIC?”

“I no have papers. I no ask for money,” she said. “I ask for my child.”

“Do you want me to take these to the register and buy them for you?” I asked. “How much do they cost?”

“Forty,” she said.

“Jiminy crickets this stuff is expensive!”

The baby started to squirm. She pulled a small bottle out of her bag. She proceeded to feed the baby, looking apologetic.

“Is that your baby?” I asked. “Can you nurse it?”

“No, I have Crohn’s disease,” she said. She gestured toward her breast, inviting me to notice that it was not full. She and I had full eye contact with each other. She looked tired and worried. The baby had a full head of dark hair, but was probably only two months old.

I thought: Maybe she is scamming me.

I thought: OK, maybe she is. I can live with that.

I told her: “Let’s go,” and put 2 of the cans in my cart. I wheeled to the register and paid for them. The clerk gave me a good coupon with the receipt — $7 off the next purchase of Enfamil — so I gave it to her, along with the receipt. We were both all teary-eyed. I said, “God bless you,” and she said, “Thank you Jesus.”

Then I was afraid she would ask more of me and I ducked back into the store. But I couldn’t stand it — I had to come back out and see what she did next. She put the coupon away very carefully into a wallet. Then she pulled out a scarf to cover the baby’s head, and went out into the sunny day. She walked with just a bit of a waddle to the very far corner of the parking lot, to where a minivan was parked under a tree. She put the baby into its seat, then drove away.

I have no idea what I expected to happen.

With tears rolling down my face, I texted my husband: “At Target. Spent $80 on baby formula for a stranger.” The phone immediately binged with his response. “Sounds good.” (Which is why I’m tagging this, “Why I still love my husband”)

I couldn’t think why she approached me. Then my hand went to my neck, to the small Jerusalem cross I wear on a chain.

I don’t think that wearing a cross ever cost me anything before.

What would you have done?

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Spying on Dinosaurs

I didn’t mean to become a birdwatcher. It’s one of the results of long-term marriage, I suppose, this bleed-over of hobbies. And if you’re going to watch birds, the spring is the time to do it. Between migration and nest-building, there is a lot to watch.

Last weekend Doug and I spent hours and hours outdoors together. We found two places where herons roost. These are called rookeries. I had always thought of herons as solitary creatures, so was surprised to learn that they cluster their nests together, often along a riverbank. The picture below doesn’t do them justice, of course, because those herons are very large, and the nests are very high.

Another thing that made watching them fun — three teenagers happened along and saw us with binoculars. They asked us what we were looking at. When we pointed to the nests, they were immediately, and appropriately, awestruck. One of them was carrying an actual camera with a telephoto lens, and he was thrilled to take pictures. They sat down on the grass and Doug, who is a Science teacher, conveyed a bit of knowledge, but even more importantly, his passion for the birds.

I like to think that this moment may have mattered to the young photographer. I’m sure his turned out better than mine did, which I snapped with my phone.

Heron Rookery

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Friends: Silver & Gold . . . & Bronzed?

Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.

Our daughter learned that little ditty in Brownies, and I’ll confess it came to mind on our trip to Alaska (and not just because of the gold-panning).

This was the first time my husband and I have traveled with someone other than family. Our companions were a writer friend who I’ve known since 2002, and her boyfriend. We were able to spend plenty of relaxed time together, often comparing experiences at day’s end, but giving each other lots of room in between.

The McKinley Explorer

All Aboard! The McKinley Explorer.

Here we are, ready to board the McKinley Explorer, which took us from Denali NP to Anchorage. We were lucky to have fabulous views of Denali along the way, a real treat since the mountain had been hiding behind its own weather system the day before, when we were actually in the park.

Besides sharing the trip with these friends, Doug and I visited some old friends whom we hadn’t seen in 25 years. This couple had been in the back of our mind as we planned the Alaska trip — they’ve lived in Juneau for 25 years.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is a very special woman — she introduced me and Doug. We owe her forever! She had started dating her husband about that same time and they married two weeks after we did. We had only seen each other once since then.

You can see we had lots to talk about, 25 years later. We couldn’t be quiet long enough to get a picture!


IMG_1357Doug was also able to connect with an old friend, someone he’s known since 7th grade and rarely sees. This connection was fun because it was so unexpected — a longer-than-anticipated layover at the Minneapolis airport had us hopping on the new (at least to us) transit system. We headed downtown, texting madly on the off-chance he could meet us. And he did.


Mary Tyler Moore

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Bonus: This one is neither silver nor gold, maybe bronzed? I got to say howdy to the woman responsible for bringing me to Minneapolis, where so much of my life unfolded. If you didn’t watch sitcoms in the 1970s you might not recognize this woman. But she had everything to do (subconsciously) with my move to the city as a young single woman in 1980. Yes, MTM is an icon of feminism!

I don’t know when the city put up the statue, but I hadn’t seen it before and it was a blast to throw my hat up beside hers.

On top of all that, while in Alaska I had the chance to meet two “virtual” friends IRL. Each shares a particular passion with me — one is an “unclutterer” and the other is a “RevGalBlogPal.”

What friends are you meeting up with this summer? Old friends or new, or maybe both at once? Because, really, nothing stays the same, and everything is always new. Yet we are still the same people we used to be. And only an old friend can remind us of that.

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“I’ll give it to you for $2,” the mom said. “I am not carrying that home.”

My husband was holding a box of rocks. We were in the parking lot of our local high school, at a Yard Sale to benefit Project Graduation.

“But did you see this?” he said, holding up a hunk of petrified wood. “It’s a real beauty.”

“It can go,” she said.

Doug handed over the $2 with a gleeful big-kid grin, the one that reminds me why I married him in the first place.

At home he sorted the rocks: some into a baggie, some into a big tray, and others set out in a careful row. I asked him what categories he was using to sort. I assumed he would tell me the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks. As I keep forgetting.

He said “Here’s my theory.” He held up the ziploc: “These were the first rocks the kid got, the polished kind you buy in a set.” He pointed to the tray. “Then he started collecting all kinds of rocks, not knowing what he was doing, just stuff he saw, or maybe mementos.” He showed me the rocks that were laid out. I saw many of them had numbers painted on them. “Then he started getting real specimens and putting them in geomorphic order.”

“Are they all there?” I asked.

“He’s missing #5 and #8.”

So if you’re friends with this kid, could you let him know we have the rest of his rocks?

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Love Among the Paper Products

My husband, Doug, is a public school employee. Earlier this week Costco offered a “you can shop here even though you’re not a member” event to public school employees.

I like to shop at Costco once or twice a year to stock up on paper goods, so off we went. I couldn’t do the errand without him because he’s the employee with the badge.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember that Doug had two surgeries on his right foot 2½ weeks ago. He’s recovering well.

About a week ago he was given a special boot that shifts all his weight back to his heel and spares his toes, so he can clunk around. Since it’s his right foot he can’t drive, but I’m his chauffeur and he’s managing to get through the days at school. Other than that, we haven’t been getting out much.

So, there we were in Costco, our first time out together in a while, pushing our cart to load it up with toilet paper and the like. An elderly couple was just ahead of us, also choosing TP.

Doug lowered his voice and said to me, quite sentimentally: “Oh, doesn’t that just warm your heart? It’s such a vote of confidence in the future to buy that much toilet paper.”

I’ll tag this with my favorite: Why I Still Love My Husband.

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From The Waiting Room Today


from last summer

I’m thinking about my husband’s face.

He’s in surgery right now, outpatient surgery on his foot. Routine, they say.

Still, as we went through the pre-op protocol, I found it hard to tear my eyes away from him. I love his face so much.

He has expressive brown eyes and his brow is starting to look kind of craggy. His hairline has receded and the lines between his nose and mouth have deepened considerably.

a wedding photo

a wedding photo

When we met, on 1 July 1983, I thought he was very cute. But it was his deep voice and capable hands that were an irresistible magnet. Plus he made me laugh, and he bounces a little when he walks. I loved that about him.

Of course I haven’t always loved everything about him. Just to be clear. We will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this August, and we have had our share of difficult times. Our relationship is not a volatile one, but life can be hard and takes a toll on any two people.

Each of us has had many career ups and downs, and managing two careers between one couple has not been easy. Because of our commitment to an egalitarian relationship we have moved across the country three times for job relocations. In ministry we talk about “following a call” but that should not be interpreted to have a glossy sheen; it has been very challenging and Doug has sacrificed (perhaps unduly) for my call.

We have also raised two children. As any parent knows, that means we have had to learn to love two more people unconditionally. The loving isn’t the hard part. It’s the navigating how to love wisely that’s difficult.

So many times I have had to choose to keep loving him. I have had to pray for the patience and wisdom to love him well. I know he would say the same about me. How many times have we had to recommit to the primacy of our relationship above all others?

Now when I look at his face I see all of this. I see the concerns that have creased his brow, the smiles that have wrinkled his eyes. I can hear his laugh. I want to stroke his hair, hair that I have cut more times than I can count. I have made meals to please him, and I have laundered his underwear. He has done the same for me.

All of these things fill my mind when I look at his face. Is he still cute? I can’t say. I just know that there is no other face I’d rather look at. I feel fortunate to look across the table at a man I love.

As a minister I have spent time with older couples. I just didn’t know what they saw when they looked at each other.

If Hollywood were to truly understand this, someone could make a lot of money. Somehow. Because it changes everything we know about “attractiveness.”

In a few hours I’ll see his face again, post-surgery. I look forward to it.

Thanks for waiting here with me.

UPDATE: The surgery took 2 hours, as scheduled. The doctor found more bone fragments than he expected to find. Doug should have a very good result. We are home now and all is well. Thanks for your support!

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I’m reading a new book, The Art of Pausing by three authors: Judith Valente, Brother Paul Quenon, Michael Bever.

The book describes the process of writing a haiku a day as a way of cultivating the art of pausing, then exchanging the haikus with a friend. Daily, over time, this practice changes and deepens how a person approaches, and notices, their life.

Today I had a Sunday off so Doug and I spent the day at the Virginia State Arboretum. It was such a beautiful day that I had to pull my phone out of my back pocket and snap a few pictures. This scene reminded me of our years in central Illinois, when our house was surrounded by cropland and ever-changing clouds. I tried a haiku.

Virginia State Arboretum

Once this looked like home
Undulate, ripple, flatten
Pause and remember

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The Habits of Marriage

Last week Huffington Post ran an article called “7 Ways to Divorce Proof Your Marriage”. A few friends posted it on Facebook and one friend asked: What would you add?

I suppose I’m in the mood to ponder the question because Doug and I just celebrated our 29th Anniversary. And in a few days we will help his parents celebrate their 60th Anniversary.

Other than being born to long-married parents (which probably helps) what has helped our marriage survive? Because, as great as Doug is, to simply say that I chose my marriage partner well, is not really a sufficient answer. We’ve had some tough years.

The article lists seven points. I’ll highlight the three that seem crucial to me, as they all create connection and true intimacy:

1) Talk more often, more openly, and more honestly.

2) Have more sex.

7) Practice forgiveness.

I would add a few thoughts, but want to frame these as “habits.” I believe that much of marriage comes down to habit. Marriage is less magic, more routine.

When I do premarital counseling with couples, I encourage them to pay close attention to the habits they create that first year, because those habits are likely to continue.

Here are four starter Habits (plus a bonus habit that is entirely due to Doug, so I can claim no credit for its simple brilliance):

A) Practice good money hygiene. Money issues are a huge part of marriage, and as the years go by, it only grows in importance. In our marriage we are transparent with money, and never spend more than a set amount without checking with the other. To us, it’s courtesy and how we work toward common goals. You might do it differently, but a couple needs to agree on specific money habits.

B) Practice good bedroom hygiene. This might be a sub-point to #2 above, about having more sex. But where the article talks about trying new positions, I think the subject can be more basic than that. Create a clean, uncluttered and soothing environment. No TV in the bedroom. No computer. Decent linens. Good lighting. Make sex easy and inviting so its regular. Make an effort to be open to it mentally. One more suggestion that may be controversial, but which worked for us: No kids in the bed. When they woke at night, one of us went to the kid’s bed until they fell asleep. Clear message to child: the big bed is sacred and off-limits, except on Saturday morning.

C) Say thank you. For the meal cooked, the dishes done, the bills paid, the groceries bought. Because I’m so glad that now I don’t have to do that thing! When I say thank you, I feel gratitude more deeply.

D) Pray through the worries. When we are worried about things (the kids, health, job, money, whatever) we pray about it in bed, aloud. We name our fears and commit them to the God we trust. We consciously commit our children to God’s care and pray a blessing over them.

Speaking of marriage habits, here is one more. It’s what Doug did from the early days, and never quit doing — and it has made a huge difference between us:

Bonus) Doug never leaves home, or returns home, without finding me and giving me a kiss. (He says it’s like hanging up his hat.) So I return the favor. What this means is that we connect effortlessly, and pleasantly, about little things as we come and go. “Can you swing by the library/do tacos tonight sound okay/we need cheese.” And who doesn’t like a little kiss to punctuate the day?

What would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear!

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