Tag Archives: happiness

When a Stalker Plays Matchmaker, There’s More Drama than Romance.

“Happy Anniversary to B. and me. May 12 is the only day of the year I will never work, as this was her request on our wedding day. She gets flowers from me on the 12th of every month, and has since we answered the easy questions together 23 years ago today.

“It’s been mostly fun.”

A long-time friend of mine, who, like me, married for the first and and only time in early mid-life, recently posted this on Facebook. Later in the day, his wife commented: “Awe!! So sweet! :>x. Time flies too quickly especially with my boyfriend for life.”Pleaasure House Point_2012 12 09_0026_edited-1

I tell you. Love doesn’t get any better than this. Or more romantic.

My anniversary is in less than two weeks. Because my Hunk of Burning Love (HOBL) and I changed our wedding date to accommodate out-of-town visitors, on more than one occasion we’ve missed our anniversary and celebrated it belatedly, only after being reminded by a friend or family member.

He stopped bringing me flowers after a sassy cat named Mr. Burt Reynolds joined our household and started disassembling the arrangements stalk by stalk, then petal by petal. Now we grow our own flowers for cutting – various types and colors of zinnias, which the cat hates. When the flowers are in bloom during late summer and early fall and I’m out and about, my HOBL cuts and arrange them in vases he sets in unexpected places.

When we announced 18 years ago that we were going to marry each other, one of my nosey brothers called my HOBL and asked who proposed to whom. When my HOBL’s answer didn’t satisfy him, he called others to get the scoop. He found the truth hard to believe.

The Big Moment did not involve a diamond ring gunked with creme brulee, a bottle of Dom, long-stemmed red roses or bended knee. Nothing about it was romantic or planned. But, drama? There was plenty. The catalyst for our spur-of-the-moment decision was someone whom I’d known as a teenager. A shy boy who rode the same school bus as I. As a man, he served as a naval officer and after that earned a Ph.D. and became a biogeneticist. J. was also an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic who stalked me off and on for more than 20 years.

A few weeks prior to the night that changed my life, J. had obtained my unlisted telephone number from an alumna of the school we had attended, a person who was unaware that his teenage crush had become an obsession. By this time, J. had been quiet for several years, living and working in the Midwest, creating corn hybrids, and, from what I’d been told by a family member, in love and hoping to be married. I was happy for him, even happier for myself, believing he was out of my life for good.

But the woman he loved did not want to marry him, and I can only guess that served as one of many factors that led him to call me near midnight in April 1994.

The moment I picked up the phone, I knew it was him. The moans and heaving breathing of an animal in pain, sounds I’d heard so many times before from. Sounds so pitiful that it pained me to know he suffered so. I did not hang up, because it was important for me to know his location and where his mind was. I will not go into all of the chilling details, but once he found his voice, he told me that he raised finches; that two beings lived in his body, one who could draw extremely well; that the Pope would be assassinated in the fall of that year; that I was destined to marry him, to have his child; and that the three of us would study sorcery and cure the ills of the world.

The next few days, as calls continued to come from the Midwest, I worked to erase any signs that I lived where I did, including trading in my car. I knew that before long he would show up, which he eventually did. Friends made daily calls to his office to track his movements, and I hid out in another city while a family of four settled temporarily into my home. These efforts to protect myself and mislead him, however, make up a later chapter in a long story that I have no plans to write.

Let me pause here and tell you, the only time I have written about this was a short note to a mutual friend, and writing this post is exhausting me. So many emotions are churning inside, including sadness that J., who died two years ago, had to live such a confused and difficult life.

But there were moments of happiness for me. Not long after J. found me that April and before I changed my telephone number for the umpteenth time, I came home from a graduate class, and on my answering machine were numerous messages from him – his voice and language growing angrier with each, all accusing me of being home and not picking up. And that’s exactly what I did with the other harrowing calls that followed. Lucky for me, in between these, a friend phoned and volunteered to keep me company.

And he was the one who answered the next ring. He told J. that I would be home from school soon, to call back in 20 minutes.

When J. did, I held the phone so my friend could hear, witness the insanity, but after a few moments, he pulled away, shaking his head, unable to listen any longer.

Then, J. said to me, “That guy there? The one who answered the phone? He’s in love with you.”

For the first time in days, I laughed. I looked at my friend who had plopped down on the couch as though he owned it. Looking into his eyes, I said, “You say the guy who answered the phone is in love with me?”

My friend grinned, pushed himself up and nodded.

I smiled. “You know what?” I said to J. “I’m in love with him, too.”

Eighteen years later, I still am.

Swinging to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Learning a Lesson in Discrimination.

imagesWhen my oldest niece, S. was young, the two of us danced together whenever we had the opportunity – overnights at her grandma’s, weddings, and always after Thanksgiving dinners at her father’s house.  As soon as her sister was born and able to walk, K. joined us as we made our own conga line and danced down hallways and from room to room, the three of us joyfully flinging arms and legs here and there, our only teachers having been MTV videos and Barney.

Then S. turned into a teenager, and before long, she was no longer content with our own stylistic gyrations.  She wanted to learn how to swing dance and shimmy to the salsa.  At age 16, she was old enough to take adult dance classes at the local recreation center.  There, the swing classes required partners, and I agreed to be hers.  The idea of the two of us taking lessons made us giggle — but not for long.

When I turned in our registration, I learned that we could not sign up together.  When I asked why, the clerk said, “Because you’re the same sex.” She also suggested others might be offended by my niece and I dancing hand-in-hand.

I was stunned but only momentarily because civil rights issues fire my blood more quickly than any Latin dance.  As my FB friends know, I’m quick to jump on a soapbox.  I pointed out that our country was nearing the dawn of a new millennium: that the center was a public facility funded by tax dollars: and that laws prevented such discrimination!

Still, the woman insisted it was the policy.  Understanding she was the messenger, I asked her to pass on my comments, which she did.

A week later I heard my concern had been sent to the city attorney’s office.  I was thrilled, sure that soon my niece and I would learn how to dance to the sounds of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy without knocking into each other, and, in doing so, she would benefit from a real life civics lesson.  My heart swelled.  I, her old auntie, would have a hand in creating an activist for equal rights.

Two weeks later, the clerk called to give us the okay.  She didn’t sound too happy, and I wondered if she had no niece or daughter of her own.

Maybe I should have thanked her and hung up, but I REALLY couldn’t.  This was about more than S. and me.  “So,” I said, “what if two guys come in tomorrow to sign up?  Will you let them in the class?”  There was a moment of silence not unlike the kind at a funeral service, the way it lingered before she said, “We don’t have any choice.”

The rest of the day I kept watch on the clock, waiting for S. to arrive home from school.  At 4:40 p.m., I called her.

“Great news!” I said.  “ We’re in.”

“What happened?”  I detected excitement in her voice.  My own little Bella Abzug.

“They had to let us in. They can’t discriminate.”

“Oh,” S. said, now sounding a bit dejected.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well,” she paused, “I thought you were going to say they’d found us some cute guys.”

But this story, like so many of mine, doesn’t end so quickly.

Our teacher, a skinny platinum blonde with hurricane hair, segregated us from the group and sent us to a corner.  When the other dancers changed partners, we were not included.  But at some point they all cut eyes our way, watching S., fired up by her love of dance, push and pull and spin me as I hung on for my life.

Afterwards, an old friend and his wife asked why we were not allowed to participate with the rest of the class, a group that seemed too somber to enjoy dancing.  Before I could answer, S. said, “The teacher thinks we have cooties.”

In the following weeks, others we knew only by sight asked, too.

Then, on the last night my friend told the instructor that everyone wanted to dance with S. and me.

“Is that true?” she asked, her mood soured by the request.  They all nodded.

She started the music, and when she turned to us, no one stood with his or her partner.  The Spanish couple had broken apart. So had the African American one.  Two women had paired up and didn’t seem the least bit put off by holding hands.  S. danced with most of the group, including a man whose age totaled that of three 16-year-old boys, and I danced with my friend, his wife and others.

And, that night, we all laughed and danced, no longer minding if our moves were smooth or steps in time. All inhibitions were surrendered as we became grown-up teenagers who just wanted to share the joys of dance with a 16-year-old girl.

The Birds, the Bees and Clematis. A Story that Takes a Sexy Turn.

ClematisI wouldn’t tell what follows if my late stepfather had been the least bit shy or embarrassed about it, but I can still recall the day he laid back in his recliner, told me this true story as tears streamed from his Paul Newman baby blues and laughter deepened his always prominent dimples. He had hardly said two words before my mother started laughing and tearing up.  She knew what was coming.

First, you need to know that before my mother and stepfather downsized to a condo, both were gardeners.  On temperate days, the exceptions being my stepfather’s golf on dry Tuesdays, their standing dates on Fridays, and Sundays when they attended the Southern Baptist Church where they met and were fixed up on a date by a deacon, they worked in their yard.

In addition to taking care of the tedious chores of cutting grass, weeding, edging and raking, they tended huge flowers beds of heirloom azaleas, roses bushes, hydrangeas, and assorted annuals and perennials, both low-growing and climbing.  When they were done and had showered off the muck and dirt, the two would sit out in the backyard and sip iced tea, enjoying their own private paradise, one they sorely missed after their move.

They took care to make sure their front yard was beautiful, too, with beds of neatly trimmed boxwoods along the front walk and tall pines ringed by azaleas.  On anything else rising from the ground – a trellis, a light pole, a mailbox, they grew clematis.  Neither my mother nor stepfather were interested in the mini-versions.  They loved the huge showy blossoms of white or purple that could be seen by anyone passing down the street.  The bigger the clematis bloom, the more awed they were by nature and God’s hand in it.

One day on the golf course at Ocean View as my stepfather hit a round with old friends from his youth and others from his church, the talk turned to yard work.  I wasn’t there, but I imagine there was grumbling by some who’d prefer to spend less time on the grass at home and more on that at the course, but eventually the conversation turned to the growing season and how flora of all kinds were flourishing – squash plants spreading like octopi, dahlias stalks breaking ground, hydrangeas clumps taking on tinges of blues and pinks.

And it was during this talk that my dear stepfather, picturing the dazzling clematis abloom on the mailbox, said,  “You’re not kidding.  You should see the beautiful clitoris I have at home!”

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Papa John’s Guide To Happiness: A Primer For Lindsay Lohan And The Rest Of Us.

pngpong        cousins         IMG_6705

When my soon to be 92-year-old father-in-law moved to a Mennonite assisted-living center in Goshen, IN three years ago, he called in his 80-something brother-in-law and a much younger son-in-law to help build an oversized desk and lots of shelving for his laptop, books, a printer and the vase with my mother-in-law’s ashes.

Papa John wasted little time in setting up an office in his modest one-room apartment.  He had much to do — track trends of the futures market for his own investment strategies and draw a house plan for a family in Africa.

He quickly made friends with other residents, but when they began dying off he turned to the center’s employees for conversation.  Now he especially enjoys talking with the beautiful young Eastern European women who work as servers in the dining hall because they tell him about things not discussed on the evening news.  Conversations about their customs, mores, ambitions and dreams. Conversation that help to keep him connected to the larger world.

In the Virginia home where Papa John lived most of his life, his dining room wall was plastered with a National Geographic world map.  It was there that he and my mother-in-law hosted lively Sunday dinners for family members, church friends and newly arrived emigrants from Albania and Laos.  And it was at that table that he learned to speak conversational Laotian.

At his 90th birthday party, my father-in-law announced to his children that he was starting life anew.  He went so far as to say, “It saddens me to think of all the funerals I’ll have to attend.”  He looked from one adult child to the next.  All nine of them.

Less than an hour later, his children had created a death pool and drawn names to see in what order they would all predecease their father.  Most of them share his sense of humor, especially Chris, one of the sassy and delightfully twisted instigators, who takes her dad to Walmart and a local diner every week where they discuss, in addition to his shopping list, the insanity of American politics at home and abroad..

At that 90th birthday celebration, one of the center’s employees gave Papa John, whose only taste of liquor occurred 71 year earlier, a bottle of Sangria.  Because he had read the benefits of red wine, he tried it.  And liked it.  In the days that followed, he drank a half-cup each morning with his breakfast until it was gone, then resumed doing so again when his stock was replenished at age 91.

These days he takes no prescription medication but believes dark chocolate is a daily “vitamin.” Every so often he calls me and says he has run out, knowing that I will send his favorite brands — Dove Bliss and Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups — which he shares with his visitors, always sending extras home with little kids.

Sometimes he mails me copies of his blood work.  On the desk in front of me is a recent one that shows his cholesterol is in range.  On that same sheet, scribbled in large print, is his blood pressure — 120/70.

Fifteen years ago a doctor told him he had the heart of a 25-year-old, and he reminds us of that often. But even though he spends 25 minutes, twice a day on a stationary bike, his legs are not so young.  He walks with a cane, one of his own design.  It’s made of PVC pipe.  At one end is an ell-shaped handle so he can hang it on the edge of a table.  The other end is four-pronged so it can stand upright.  Other features include a magnet for picking up dropped paper clips and a tine for stabbing paper debris.  His cane fascinates the center’s residents, some who want their own, and strangers at fast food restaurants to whom he gladly demonstrates its features as his sausage biscuit and free senior coffee cool.

Among his other creations are a pencil extender to increase the life of a nub; a specialty paper tray  for home/small business printers; methods for more efficient construction estimates; and a steel leg for a friend who damaged his own in a accident.  The last was a prototype that needed further tweaking.  No matter.  His buddy was too scared to strap it on.

A compulsive problem solver who wakes up thinking, “What if. . .,” Papa John is now working on a design for affordable, prefabricated living space that would allow persons on the low-end of the economic spectrum to afford their own 700 sq. ft. homes.  Floors could be added as families flourished.

The reason I’m writing about my father-in-law, other than the fact that I’m crazy about him, is that I recently watched the documentary, Happy, which features interviews with academics at U.S. universities and regular people in Denmark, Okinawa, Japan and elsewhere.

According to the film, the unhappiest people fall into three groups:

1.  People who work so much they have no time for leisure, family or friends. As an example, the film cites Japanese businessmen.

2.  Those on a hedonic treadmill who always WANT/NEED to have the next, big thing.  Look around.  We all know someone like this.  Or perhaps we are like this.  (But I’m not.  Really.)

3. Members of fringe groups who fear or dislike outsiders.  Think White Supremists.  Evangelicals, such as snakes handlers.  Or mountain-bound conspiracy theorists.

And what makes for a happy life?  According to experts, four conditions:

1. Regular physical activity that raises feel-good dopamine levels,

2. An appreciation for what one has (which is easier when one’s basic needs are met),

3. Close friends, family members and an involvement with community, and

4. Compassion and service to others.

When I finished streaming Happy on Netflix, I thought of my father-in-law who gave up his home and car at age 89 and moved from a Virginia community he’d known for most of his life to a final one in Indiana. Those changes alone, especially the last, are enough to send most people into a downward spiral.

Yet he continues to thrive. He wakes up every morning, looking forward to his day, happy.

How To Start A Day

How to Start a Day

Begin by letting go of the hem
of your dream.  Let it slip
backwards into a black lake
as you greet the dawn.  Be thankful
for small aches.  You have survived

night’s heavy arms to wash yesterday
from your face. Begin to create
the opus of a new day.  Look out
from a kitchen window as you savor
a first cup of coffee.  House wrens

flap at the feeder.  A squirrel
dances osiers so that the willow
shakes with laughter.  Be thankful
for the small favors of sunlight
walking across the lawn, a cabbage
butterfly teasing the azaleas,

the pink rain of cherry blossoms.
Even the neighbor’s dog barking
ducks from his yard is sacred.
Open to morning’s hymns:

the big mouth of the garbage truck,
the mockingbird’s purloined songs,
chatter on the corner waiting
for the yellow school bus.  The engine
of the day purrs in your throat

as you dress.  Sweep your calendar
clean of doctor appointments,
chores.  The vacuum and the duster
can wait.  Let the day surprise you.
Be thankful to be who you are.

Jane Ellen Glasser      DSCN0894

This is a poem I long ago tacked to a wall in my office where I would be sure to see it when I needed to — which has been often.  It appears in Jane Ellen’s prize-winning chapbook, The Long Life, and in her latest, The Red Coat, which is now available from Amazon.com.

Since day one of this blog, I wanted to share this poem and its creator’s name.  So, with her permission and photo, here it is for you to read, enjoy, perhaps reread and share while I try to pare the rambling post I’ve written about my elderly father-in-law and happiness.

Happy Tuesday, all!

The Age of Invisibility? Time to Get Your Mojo Back.

DSCN0130When you are young and pretty, strangers stare.  When you’re older, they look, too.  Perhaps they pity the hunch of your back, the way your feet shuffle.  Or are amazed that you’re still alive, spry, walking, talking.  But at fifty-nine, you are invisible.  You walk the dog, and truckers breeze by, not bothering to honk.  You breakfast at coffee bars, and no one at the creamer caddie gives you a second glance.  At middle age, you are like a tree, a chair, a sign.  Something people pass by.  

The above comes from A Tree, a Chair, a Sign, a short story I wrote several years when I was more than 20 years younger than the narrator.  Not long before I started writing it, I’d noticed construction workers no longer whistled at me as I walked by, and no one coming or going from the 7-11 rushed to open the door for me.  These things and others signaled that I had entered into the phase of womanhood when college students and young newlyweds called me, “Ma’am.”

It was about that same time that my father said, “Now you’re even too old for the old guys.”  He was 61 at the time, my stepmother only a month older than I.  Neither she or I had hit middle age.

So I tried to imagine what women past their child-bearing years were feeling, and that led to the above passage, and the story in which a woman rediscovers her mojo.  Soon after, I found mine.

The reason I bring this up is lately I’ve heard a lot of 40- and 50-something women complaining that they feel invisible.  And not the kind by choice, like on a lazy day when you scoot to the grocery store as soon as it opens so no one will see  you with stringy bed hair and in paint-splattered sweats, scuffing down the aisles in an old pair of Ugg’s.  No, these are women who seem no longer sure what anchors them in the world larger than their own family.  These are smart, funny, talented people with more than enough knowledge for a competitive run on Jeopardy.

I had already started thinking about writing this post when I saw a rerun of The New Adventures of  Old Christine in which the title character griped to her brother that she had become invisible.  When she finished her rant, he responded, “It sounds like you need Mojo Rehabilitation Therapy.”  Ah ha, I thought, remembering how I energized my life.  MRT.  That’s it.

Sometimes, all of us, men  and women become too comfortable or too tired to change our lives. We don’t change jobs because we can’t risk losing our retirement benefits or health insurance.  We keep to same group of friends who are much like ourselves.  Nights out for dinner are set, except for the month of December. Family vacations revolve around family, taking the kids somewhere fun for them or visiting relatives in other states.  We stick to the same genre of books when we have time to read, although free moments are scarce.  The worst part?  The future doesn’t look so different from the last 12 years or so.  More of the same old, same old, except maybe a kid or two will move out.  Or not.

There  are millions of way to get in touch with your mojo, and it doesn’t have to be costly.  My first step was setting up a makeover at Sephorra.  Perhaps that sounds shallow and a bit vain — I do come from a long line of vain people, but it’s amazing how a cosmetic artist can alter a face with color, which, in turn, can change an attitude.  As I left the store with my new look and strolled through the mall, I kept admiring my reflection in the glass windows of other shops.  I couldn’t decide whether I looked like a French actress or a high-class Parisian hooker.  It didn’t matter.  I no longer felt invisible.  I felt reborn, not unlike my younger self that hopped on a plane and spend three months on traveling alone in Europe and Great Britain without a plan.  Unpredictable yet powerful.  Full of moxie and mojo.

For my more mature self, this last rebirth led to new travels to third-world countries, which, in turn, gave me a new perspective of where I fit in the large world.  When I returned home, I continued to shake up my life by giving up my job and enrolling in graduate school where I was often the oldest student in the class.  Sometimes even older than the professors.  Bigger things happened later.  All because of a bright sexy red lipstick that I had never imagined wearing.

Note:  Stuck?  Need help taking that first step?  Take a look at The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Or. . .call Sephorra.