Thursday, April 25, 2013

Daily Sweets -- The Secret to a Happy Marriage?

Several years ago I gave my husband, Brian the gift of a loving thought every day for a year.  I wrote these daily thoughts in a little notebook (they grew into two notebooks) that I then presented to him as my Christmas gift.  I called the books 365 Days of Loving You.  I remember how my love grew as each day I was aware of the little things that say, “I love you.”  I felt more grateful for our relationship.  More than a year ago, Brian began writing me similar daily notes, but instead of writing them in a notebook (or two) he sends them to me via email.  He calls them Daily Sweets.   He committed to doing this for a year, just as I had.  However, at the end of the year, we both agreed the Daily Sweets should continue.  Brian is finding he gets the same type of benefit from being aware of our relationship as I did and I look forward to seeing them pop up in my inbox every morning.  Sometimes the topics he writes about are profound; sometime they’re just about the everyday.  Sometimes I want to hear his deepest feelings toward me; sometimes I just want to be thanked for doing the laundry.

While we are on vacation in Italy I have wanted Brian’s vacation to be especially restful, so I have been doing a couple of things that are normally his chores.  I’ve been making the bed every day and I’ve been writing the Daily Sweets.  I am once again infused with fresh feelings of love and gratitude.  It is such a simple act to be present and watch for the good, but it brings such strong feelings to the forefront.

Is this awareness the secret to being happily married for 35 years?  Probably not by itself, but it’s a good place to start.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

On Holiday

According to my husband, who always has bits of trivia to share, a book he recently read stated the reason Americans use the term vacation while Europeans more commonly use the term holiday dates back to when folks on the East Coast of the U.S. began leaving the cities in the summer to spend that time on the coast or in the mountains.  Writers began referring to the vacated cities and the use of the term vacation took off.

I thought about this difference as I listened to a young British mum on the plane from London to Rome discussing with her daughter their weekend holiday.  I decided there is a difference in perception of a vacation versus a holiday.  A vacation (vacating) is leaving one place, while a holiday is celebrating another place.  There are times when we definitely need to leave work and responsibilities behind and I’m happy to take a vacation in that sense, even if it’s only for an afternoon (this could also be called playing hooky), but when I travel to someplace I love, whether it’s Sunriver, Disneyland or Italy or perhaps places I haven’t yet been, I want to celebrate being in that place, at that moment.  I want to revel in the beauty and culture.  I want to feel myself relax into whatever the day-to-day routine is for that place.  So, right now while I may technically be on vacation from work and family responsibilities, I’m really celebrating being on holiday in Italy.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Last night, as my husband, mother-in-law and I walked around Rome I noticed we all spent time reminiscing about previous trips to this ancient city.  We told stories of happenings from other trips, with other people.  We pointed out places, hotels and restaurants we had experienced.  I found it interesting that we all participated in this storytelling and wondered why we do this.  Does it bring comfort of some sort?  Are we trying to one-up someone else’s story?  Yes to the comfort, no to the one-upping.  I’ve seen this happen before when I’ve traveled and it’s almost as if the sharing helps us to build up our mental scrapbook of memories.  We have the photos from previous trips in our head, but pointing out the scenes, telling the stories is like putting the glue on the back of the photo and securing it into our memory books.  It’s a way of acknowledging the wonder and uniqueness of a place, not just here in Rome, but anywhere we visit that is different from our day-to-day life.  Being in a place we’ve heard of or seen pictures of seems so daunting – Am I really here?  Am I really seeing this?  Telling stories of experiences in the places we visit, whether those stories are told back at home or to a traveling companion on a return visit, reinforces that we truly were here, that our being here is a part of this place’s history and this place is also a part of our own history, carried in our memories and, when we have the opportunity to share, relished like a scrapbook containing pictures of old friends.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On My Own

Yesterday the kids and I hiked to the top of Smith Rock in Central Oregon in search of an Adventure Day for our spring break vacation.  A waitress at the place we had lunch on Monday suggested it as a good hike alternative since our usual hiking spots are still covered in snow up on Mt. Bachelor.  She warned that the Misery Ridge Trail (“Of course, you’ll want to take Misery Ridge.”) was a steep uphill switchback for the first 15 minutes (“But you can do anything for 15 minutes.”) and went on to convince us by saying her seven-year-old son hikes this trail with her.  So, we packed a light lunch, filled water bottles and off we went.

I’d been to Smith Rock State Park once before, but that was years ago and all I remember was feeling queasy as I watched rock climbers scale the sheer cliff walls that make up Smith Rock.  Yesterday I realized that in some cruel joke, the parking area is actually across the Crooked River from Smith Rock.  That means that before beginning your actual climb, you have to descend down to the river so that your climb begins about 100 feet below where you parked your car.  The climb itself is approximately 900 feet straight up, accomplished by a narrow switchback trail that’s almost a mile in length.  It is so steep in some places that rebar stakes have been driven into the ground to support stairs that allow trail hiking as opposed to rock climbing.  This is definitely a physically challenging hike and, as the only person over 50 – heck, I was the only person over 20 – I admit that I struggled a bit and had to take short rest breaks frequently.  The physical challenge was not overwhelming though and, if that were the only drawback, I’d gladly hike this trail again.  However, the more difficult part for me, the aspect of the hike that will prevent me from ever trying it again, was the height.  This is a narrow trail with a steep drop and I am acrophobic – I have an unnatural fear of heights.  As we began to make our way up the trail, I realized that I needed to look straight down at the ground below my feet – no looking up to enjoy the scenery.   I have had embarrassing reactions to heights in the past and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the kids who were scampering along as if they were running across a field.  Seriously, what would their reaction have been to having their mom airlifted off the side of the rock?  I realized that giving up and going back down this route would be equally as bad as continuing to go up, so I braced myself and continued to hike.  I wished my husband was there to hold my hand, talk to me and guide me, but then I realized that if he had been there my reaction to the height would have been worse.  This was a surprising realization for me.  For 35 years Brian and I have relied on each other to manage the rough patches in life and, for me, that includes helping me through heights and closed in spaces.  Without Brian there to calm me, I wasn’t free to express my fear.  Sure, the kids knew I was struggling and I told them that the height was bothering me, but I couldn’t lay that fear on them as I would have with Brian.  I realized that I had to control my own fear with the goal of getting myself to the top without an emotional breakdown.  I talked to myself, encouraged myself and acknowledged to myself that I was scared but I could accomplish this challenge – and I did!  I got myself to the top and firmly planted my feet on a section of flat ground (well away from the edges).  I realized we still had to go back down the other side, but we’d been told that route was much easier; however, that’s another story.  For the moment, I just quietly reveled in my triumph – achieved on my own.