49 Years and Counting: Anniversary Wisdom

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My parents on their wedding day

My parents Garry and Margaret met around 50 years ago when my dad was teaching high school in Texas and my mom was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines based in Dallas. In their early twenties when they married, they moved to Georgia within a few years so my father could teach and pursue a graduate degree. My mom worked hard at caring for my older brother and me at home and later returned to school to become a teacher herself.

Now both retired and enjoying grand-parenthood, their church, and the arts of quilting (mom) and beekeeping (dad), they just celebrated their 49th anniversary.  I asked them what their secret was to keeping it together. My dad deferred to my mom (hmm…), who, with his input, shared the following remarks and insights. -FsFTB

A few words from Margaret

Yesterday Garry and I celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. Sandee asked to what we owed our long marriage. I asked Garry what he thought, and we both agreed we have no idea. But Sandee has asked me to share our long-marriage survival skills…so here goes.

Disclaimer: I cannot say if the things on this list are the exact elements that contributed to our long marriage, or guarantee they’ll work for others. But they are things I try to practice, and I feel like they strengthen the marriage relationship.

1. Acceptance of each other, “as is.” It’s not a good idea to enter the marriage with the idea you will change your spouse. Better to remember all the wonderful things that made you fall in love to start with and focus on and strengthen those elements. If your spouse’s one bad habit annoys you, remember that you likely have two bad habits that annoy your spouse.

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Respect!

2. Show each other respect.

3. Compromise is not a four letter word. You can’t always have things the way you want them. Work together to find a solution both can live with. Sometimes this takes a bit of time.

4. Communicate. Tell your spouse what you are feeling and what you need; your spouse cannot read your mind. Be a good listener. Not all problems require a solution; sometimes people just need to be listened to. Be a supporter.

5. Disagreements & arguments happen. Try to understand your spouse’s point of view. NEVER name call or curse at your spouse (see #2). Remember, sometimes you lose. It’s okay — after you’ve been married 49 years, you’ll no longer remember the losses anyway.

6. Don’t go to bed angry. You won’t sleep well if you do, so say “I love you” and kiss and make-up. That may mean you’ll have to say “I’m sorry.” That’s a good thing – never hesitate to admit when you have been wrong. Flowers or a favorite home-cooked meal helps here. Be quick to forgive, forget and move on. There is nothing to be gained by beating a dead horse.

7. Dream together. In one of Sandee’s previous posts she quoted the following: “True love is beyond the physical and romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, and will not be. Life isn’t about learning how to weather the storm, but learning how to dance in the rain.” I like that and agree, but I was struck by the second sentence. My thought was that something was missing, and that something was “all that WILL be” — the good, the bad, the joy, the sorrow, etc. (Ed. note: My mom is smart–not that I didn’t already know that. I inadvertently misquoted: the original did contain the “will be” piece!) Marriages need dreams and hopes that couples can build on together so that they can move forward through what is and will be. In doing so then they can perhaps more readily accept the things that will not be. And a lot of things will not be – that is life, that is love. But don’t give up the dreams. They are what help you weather the storm and dance in the rain.

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Sharing a sense of humor!

8. Play together. Get away together on occasion just to enjoy each other’s company. No kids, family or friends – just the two of you. Focus on each other, get reacquainted.

9. Have a sense of humor. Lots of funny things happen in a marriage…look for the humor in any situation. Laugh often and heartily. But don’t make your spouse the butt of the joke (see #2).

10. What happens in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom. Unless you are talking to a sex therapist, keep your sex-life between the two of you.

11. The old adage “don’t air your dirty laundry in public” is a good one to follow. Public arguments only make those around you uncomfortable and don’t make you look so good.

12. Practice your faith together and regularly.

Oh, and lastly, NEVER, NEVER roll your eyes — unless your back is turned. 😉

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My beautiful folks–happy anniversary!

On Commitment and… Cats?

For my Eliza Jane, and all my feline loves, on Pet Memorial Day

ElizaChristmas2I’ve been missing my big kitty Eliza Jane, whom I lost back in February due to complications from diabetes and what was likely kidney cancer. As fiancé Steve and I get closer to the wedding, and thus to moving to a new home together, I’ve grown wistful thinking about leaving behind my little purple house and all the memories it holds.

When I moved to Virginia, I arrived first with two of my cats in tow, Roscoe (also dearly departed in 2013) and Eliza Jane. My big girl had had a tough road trip, complete with car-sickness that earned her Roscoe’s usual spot in the front passenger seat. As I set her carrier down in the foyer of our new home, she let out a plaintive wail that echoed through the whole empty house. She calmed quickly once our (her) furniture and things arrived, with their familiar smells and textures. She was only three years old then, so most of the memories we made together are bound up with this place.

Eliza 2Eliza wasn’t an easy cat. Neither was she, by traditional standards, a beautiful cat: she was overweight for much of her life, though her head and legs remained tiny, rendering her proportions out of balance. Her short fur was coarse, her tail average, neither long nor particularly expressive. With asymmetrical coloring and a lopsided mustache, she sported a perpetually wide-eyed, startled expression (the cat equivalent, maybe, of resting-bitch-face?) and rarely exhibited the zen-like contentment many cats do. After a cancerous growth returned the third time on one of her back legs, we had it amputated, and she became a 21-pound tripod.

And though a sweet (at least to me) kitty who grew ever more cuddly and expressive as she aged, she was always reserved if not aloof, and, if we’re honest, inconvenient. As she got older, she had increasing trouble managing the hop into the litter box, and she struggled to keep herself clean. There were butt baths, lots of cat-bed washings, almost daily mopping. Sometimes I felt like the house always smelled vaguely of kitty accident. And it grew expensive, buying special food to manage her diabetes, boxes of extra-large pee pads, syringes and vials of insulin.

But I loved my Liza Belle. And when I adopted her, I’d made a commitment to care for her and love her for life.

Elizaonshoulder3Love, commitment, devotion: it’s not always convenient, not always pleasant. Sometimes love is hard, annoying, even smelly. It’s real. It’s being glad to do tough things, put up with inconvenience, because the love outweighs the irritation. Because that is the love, the practice of love: being there, being of service, being as much a constant as possible even in the face of fear, failure, decline. Being a constant presence, a constant heart.

In the last years of her life, Eliza was hard to fall in love with, and she and Steve did not bond as deeply as he has with my other two cats. I understood: he hadn’t known her as I did. When I looked at Eliza, I didn’t just see her matted belly and her kitty dander, experience her cool reserve. I saw the kitten who used to ride on my shoulder around the kitchen. The cat who played fetch and chased the laser light under the closet door, where she thought it lived. I saw the kitty who loved to cuddle her big brother, the kitty who’d warned me of an intruder by hissing in the middle of the night. I saw the—yes, beautiful—cat who’d borne up under so much and brought me so much joy.

Elizakitten2Eliza was some-kinda-cute as a kitten, for sure, but “cute” was all I really knew when I committed to adopting her back then. I didn’t know then whether she’d be cuddly or cool, how she might grow and change, what pleasures and pains and challenges would come. Once I said yes, though, my commitment didn’t depend on her staying cute, or being a perfect cat, or an easy one. Once I committed to her, we were in it, for life, together.

The truth is, the longer I loved her, the more beautiful she became to me, the more of her beauty I could see. It was only through committing to the long haul that I was blessed to get to know her fully and deeply, and the more I knew, the more I saw how beautiful she truly was. When I looked at her, I saw all the shared history, all the love; I saw her young and old, healthy and ill, cuddly and cranky. It was all there, and the layers made me love her all the more.

Even now, after she’s gone from this world, she keeps teaching me. Cheers, my lovely Eliza. And thank you for showing me the wonder, complexity, and meaning of real beauty and commitment.

Eliza and me: one of our last pictures together

Eliza and me: one of our last pictures together

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On the Lake, In my Heart

Recently my parents hosted a small gathering in Georgia so Steve could meet some of the folks from down South who’d known me back in the day (and loved me anyway, I reckon). Through a charity silent auction, my parents had secured an afternoon on a houseboat on the lake, and though the forecast threatened to rain us out, it turned out to be a beautiful day.

I’d never been on a houseboat before myself, so I enjoyed just ogling our digs-for-the-day! There was yummy barbecue, games and puzzles, a photo booth with goofy props. And M&Ms with our faces on them! Continue reading

Love, Lace, & Satin: A (Family) Affair to Remember

♥ ♥ ♥

Mom in her wedding gown

Mom in her wedding gown

My mother Margaret designed and made the ring pillow Steve and I will use in our wedding ceremony. It’s made from her taffeta wedding dress and lace from the Watteau train of her dress.

My mother was teeny-tiny when she married my father, and the material of her dress had become so delicate that even if I were able to fit into it (which I haven’t been, since I was maybe 16), it wouldn’t have been possible to wear it anyway.

Grandma's blue dress

Grandma’s blue dress

There is also a piece of satin in the pillow from my maternal grandmother’s wedding dress, which was Yale-blue, since my grandfather was a graduate. The satin had faded, so it is incorporated in the pillow as a liner under the white taffeta.

I love the way the pillow pays tribute to generations of mothers and daughters: my mother made her daughter a ring pillow from fabric worn in her own and her mother’s wedding.

Our ring bearer

With our ring bearer

I don’t have a daughter myself to carry our pillow, and my only niece is already in college. But I’m thrilled to honor the next generation of our family by having my brother’s youngest son, my nephew Ethan, carry the pillow as our ring-bearer. With his winning smile, he just might steal the show.

This piece of our ceremony is truly a (family) affair to remember!

♥ ♥ ♥

Our wedding pillow

Our wedding pillow: a family affair!

FsFTB Has a New Gig!

I’m thrilled to announce Forty-Something First-Time Bride is now a Real Bride Blogger for bridebook magazine!

Bridebook is a great resource for Virginia brides, and they highlight real weddings in every issue. I’m excited to share more stories about marrying at mid-life with their readers.

I’ll be writing for bridebook once a month, in addition to my regular posts here. My first piece went up on their site yesterday–click on the title below to check it out!

It’s hard to believe that our wedding is just four months away. Read on for a tale of some serious (and not-so-serious) mother-daughter bonding.

MomandMeMothers, Daughters, and Wedding Dresses:

A Middle-Aged Bride Shops for “the One.”

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If you missed my first dress adventure, check out Funny Story About My Dress… here on Forty-Something First-time Bride. And for a bit more backstory on my mom–that lovely lady in the photo above–try A Mother’s Dream in honor of the wedding that wasn’t.

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Six Lessons My Brother Taught Me

For Todd, on National Siblings Day

1. Sometimes you have to leave home to find home.

After my brother Todd, three years my senior, finished college in Georgia, he lived and worked in Athens–arguably one of the best places in a largely conservative state for an intelligent, unconventional, creative-minded twenty-something. After a few years doing quality-control testing in a lab, he decided to take a leap into the unknown: he and one of his best friends moved out west to seek their fortunes.  They visited with our paternal grandmother and family in Texas for a spell, then headed to New Mexico, where they lived with my maternal grandmother, looked for work, and took up rock-climbing. Todd was drawn to the subtle beauty of  the desert, the broad open spaces of the mesa. He felt at home in the west, and it was there he eventually fell in love, got a second degree, found rewarding work, and began raising a family.

Taking me climbing, 1994

Taking me climbing, 1994

Both of us, I think, always felt our southern hometown, though lovely in many ways, was a poor fit, a size too small. And when I found myself in Georgia in my mid-thirties, in need of a fresh start, it was in part my big brother’s example of striking out on his own that emboldened me to sell my house, leave everything I knew, and move to Virginia. It’s probably the single most important choice I made that helped me find my path and figure out my own priorities.

2. “Parent” and “spouse” are roles, not identities—and we play those roles best when we let our essential selves shine through.

Todd with Natasha, 1994

Todd with Natasha, 1994

My niece Natasha was born in August, the same weekend I was loading a moving van to head to Ohio for graduate school.  I didn’t get to meet her until December, when first we gathered, unexpectedly, in Texas for my grandmother’s funeral, then a few weeks later in New Mexico for Christmas. I didn’t realize until I saw Todd with her that for some reason I’d expected him, now that he was a father himself, to have magically morphed into our dad: clean-cut and clean-shaven, sporting khakis and button-downs and suit jackets on Sundays, reserved in demeanor and measured in opinion. Instead, I was surprised to find my brother still very much himself, mischievous sense of humor intact along with his long hair, beard, and preferred wardrobe of jeans, tees, and flannel shirts. He was still forthright and outspoken, unpersuaded by institutionalized religion, and exuberantly excited about Christmas, as he’d always been. He was also clearly besotted with and amazed by this exquisite creature, his newborn daughter. Continue reading