Thursday, May 31, 2012

on the road. again. and again.

Well. The much anticipated, much dreaded trip is finally behind us. I am both glad and sad.

Over a period of six days we traveled approximately 2329 miles. Two days to get to Middlebury, VT for my nephew's graduation from Middlebury College. A day to attend the graduation and travel from Middlebury to CT. A day to rent a U-Haul trailer and load the family piano that had been at my dad's for about 30 years, and inter dad's ashes at the base of his beloved apple tree. Two more days to travel home with trailer in tow. It was break-neck, and rough on two aging bodies to spend so much time in the car. But we did it. Jesse is now a graduate (you rock, Jess!), and the piano on which I learned to play is now in our living room. Ken and I actually got it out of the trailer and into the house ourselves. Phew!

There was never any question that I would be at Jesse's graduation. After pricing the cost of moving the piano through professional means there was also never any question that we would be transporting the piano ourselves on this trip. The great sadness is that an opportunity to travel through beautiful and historic country, putting us in the vicinity of friends and family, had to be squandered. The cost of lodging, gas, boarding the dogs, and renting the trailer was shoved up against time away from work (no work = no pay), making this a very expensive trip. It broke my heart to know that we would be so close to so many opportunities to see friends, or stop to take in an historic site, but it was not to be. I console myself with the glimpses we had of gorgeous lake views driving through the Adirondacks, and spectacular vistas in Vermont and Virginia as we logged the necessary miles to get from place to place. We were fortunate to have great weather during most of the trip, and the delight of a ferry crossing (x2) that allowed for a pause to be out of the car and feel the almost-summer breeze in my hair. I carry in my mind a host of images that brought peace to my soul and reconnected me to long-forgotten memories of earlier travels. All is not lost.

Down the road, literally and figuratively, we will find a way to make a trip that overflows with fulfilling stops at places along the way, and lingering visits with people who matter to us. I am reminded that spending time in such ways is the stuff of life, and the wind that fills our sails.

Until then, there's a piano to tune and music to make. For that I am most grateful.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

speaking of steps...

I've been messing with this layout since the weekend (in my spare time, of course). A web site where I do most of my digital purchasing for scrapbooking hosted several challenges last Saturday for national scrapbook day, and one of them inspired me to tackle using this photo in the layout that resulted.

I adore this picture of my grandparents. It captures their joy in such a way that one can't help but feel moved by it. Their marriage was a second for both of them, and one that many who knew them admired and sought to model. They were fiercely devoted to each other, and I wish I'd been astute enough  when my grandfather died to recognize the incredible loss this was for my grandmother. I was 17 at the time, and of course the world revolved around me, so I wasn't paying attention, not adequately anyway.

I adored my grandfather, and took great pride in claiming him as my kin through the many ways we found connections with each other: we loved to work on jigsaw puzzles, play board games (we had a favorite), and he was so utterly attentive to cultivating an environment that encouraged each of his grandchildren to seek and grow and learn to be ourselves.

Bampy died when I was a senior in high school, coming home from the hospital mere days before he took his last breath. I was fortunate to see him the day before his passing, and indicative of his tendency to focus on others, he gathered what little strength he had to tell me, with fervor, that he was "rooting for Earlham!" the college to which I had applied and would ultimately attend. 

Miss you, Bamp. Thanks for the excellent blueprint you laid out for how to be a stellar (step) grandparent.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

weighing the variables

Ordinarily we are past the scholarship season. Application deadlines have come and gone, incoming data (along with essays) has been evaluated, rankings applied and recipients notified of their award. Due to some technical issues beyond my control, one of the scholarships managed by my office is only now receiving applications. Because we are behind the usual curve of timeliness in making those awards I am trying to make up for that time by reviewing the applications as they come in and rank them accordingly.

The scholarship in question is intended for students who are coming to college after a break of at least five years from a previous educational tenure. That might mean high school, or perhaps a collection of semesters begun at college at an earlier time.

It happens that there are a hefty number of applicants who have completed junior or community college work and are moving forward to complete their four-year degree.  There's a bit of a gray area around eligibility for those students, but they do qualify in some respects. Still, I'm feeling cautious about how I weight that criteria against the purer eligibility components of other students.

For the sake of argument: all other things being equal, who should be favored in awarding a scholarship? The student with the 3.4 GPA coming from a community college, or the 2.5 who has struggled to make ends meet working as a chef and has decided it's time to go for the sheepskin with a BA (or BS) stamped on it? That's a hypothetical, but I'm curious as to how others would make this decision.


And thank you for weighing in.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


An article in this morning's Huffington Post hit home for me. It talked about the difficulty that step-mothers may experience on Mother's Day when the relationship goes unacknowledged by their step-children.The article focused compassionately on the slight that is felt when the day comes and goes without expressed appreciation, affection, or whatever other positive form such expression might take. As is often the case with subjective feature articles, the comments are far more revealing about the vast experiences of step-hood out there in the world than the article itself seeks to explore. I was stunned, however, to read very few responses that made any attempt to empathize with the step-mother who walks in my shoes. The role and experience that already feels lonely to me feels lonelier still.

I write, here, of my own experience as a childless woman who married a man with grown children. I am geographically distant from my own biological family, but I am at a distance in part because that family isn't a particularly cohesive unit. I am close to my mother, loved and respected my father, and with  my brothers there is affection but not a great deal of connection. There is no "bosom" of family. I am left to do what I can to foster that connection, sense of belonging, and embrace with the family to which I am connected by marriage.

If you've read this blog for any length of time you know that I have had a good and close relationship with  my step-son. The relationship with my step-daughter has seen its challenges and a share of deep pain, though now we are on much firmer ground, and are closer than we have ever been. For better or worse, through good times and bad, they are my family.

I try to keep my desires for them to see me as such in check. Expectations till the soil of our capacity for feeling wounded, and there have been days when those wounds have felt crippling. I am torn between the desire to be honest with them and communicate how I feel and the "wisdom" of letting it be. Grown-ups are supposed to be adept at taking our lumps while at the same time expected to be a model of how to get it right and do it right. too often the line between the two is blurred or moves from day to day.

Last winter when we were anticipating celebrating an early Christmas with Ashely and her family, I mentioned to Ashley that I was hoping to get family pictures while we were together. I mentioned that one picture I wanted was of the two of us. When the day came I was feeling frumpy and unhappy with how I looked: pudgy and bad hair and all. I didn't want a picture of me looking as such, so I had mentally abandoned the desire to get a picture of Ashley and me together. But she remembered, and she prompted the pose that I have included above. Although I hate how I look, I am grateful for what the picture tells me. That I matter, that she is making an effort, and that her affection is genuine.

That's really all I want as a step-mom. I am not their mother and don't seek to be treated as such. I do have a place in this family, and my cup overflows when that is acknowledged.

Friday, May 04, 2012

friday five: they say it's your birthday!

At RevGals Kathryn invites us to contemplate birthdays. Lucky for me that's a happy subject, so I'm glad to share a few memories with you.

1) What is the first birthday you remember? 
I honestly couldn't tell you what my earliest birthday memory is, but I do have a distinct memory of a Matterhorn decoration in the middle of the dining table at one birthday party.  Mom loved to decorate around a theme, and that year's theme might well have been based on the experience of Disneyland's Matterhorn ride.
A story that gets told on me that took place at an early age is that after I opened my gifts and surveyed the haul my evaluation was this, "I got more clothes than presents!" Perhaps this photo is from that occasion?

2) Do you recall a favorite gift? 
There have been lots of great gifts over my many years: a bicycle, record player, various music choices, a special school trip endorsed and paid for... no one gift stands out more than any other.

3) Has anyone ever tried to surprise you for your birthday? Did it work? Was it fun? 
Yes! I lived in St. Louis when I turned 40, and a friend gave me a party that I knew about. What I didn't know is that two friends flew in from New Hampshire, one came from Georgia, and two others drove from Kentucky.  It can be difficult to surprise me because I tend to be very alert to details and changes in normal patterns of behavior. But on that occasion I was totally blown away.  A few years ago my husband also arranged a surprise at a local restaurant, and that was lots of fun.

4) Do you have a favorite birthday dessert? 
I was about to say that chocolate always rules, but at the above-mentioned 40th birthday the dessert I requested was an apple-walnut spice cake with caramel sauce. It is absolutely divine, and it is time to make it again!

5) Describe what would be your 'perfect birthday'.
I don't know that I have a perfect birthday in mind, but I do know that I feel disappointed when the day comes and goes like any other. I want festivity, friends, good food, and the rest follows from there. I've spent great birthdays with a handful of beloveds, and great birthdays with a bigger crowd.  One day out of the year it's nice to have a fuss made over me and soak up the love. However and wherever that happens works for me.

My 50th, with two of my beloveds!


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