Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sailing Solo

A song played constantly in my head that summer, Lee Ann Womack's, I Hope You Dance . Every time I heard it or sang along with it. I was reminded that my life was going to be what I made of it.  I didn't want to get down the road and look back and wish for something else. Who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone?

When I hear that song now, it takes me to driving back and forth out on my own.  I had been shy and awkward about life; I wasn't going to be that way anymore.  I was like a snowball pushed down a hill, growing in experience and force.  Once I got started making choices for myself, I felt empowered.  It was thrilling to be able to reinvent me.

Being alone was okay but I didn't want this for my future.  I liked sharing my life with someone.  Nothing was going to bring Rick back but the future was mine.  A friend told me, "If it's to be, it's up to me." I tried to live that statement..  I was ready to greet life. Things that seemed like challenges before just seemed small in comparison to what I had been through.

I sailed alone frequently during the end of that summer.  I loved it.  The power of the wind on blustery days was invigorating.  I loved when the boat heeled and cut through the water.  I leaned back and held the mainsheet (line or rope) and tiller, my body leaning against the opposite side to counterbalance the tilt of the boat.  Even alone, I wasn't afraid.  I was a new Jane.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taking my boys for a sail

Toward the end of the summer, I decided to take Mike and Jack out together for a sail.   We got up early, packed lunches and looked for the wind.  It seemed like the wind was fine.  Michael was into Pokeman figures and brought several of them with him on the boat.  As we were leaving the dock, Chip warned me that there were wind gusts and to be careful.   It was an awesome day to be out on the river.

Michael was pretty bored with the whole ordeal.  He put all of his Pokeman figures on the gunnels and one went flying in the drink.  He was pretty calm considering.  I came about and let the sails luff as I got them situated to have our lunch; this was the part Michael loved of course.

Jack climbed up to the bow and laid his body over the boat and and dangled his hands in the water.  He was being a daredevil and I didn't like it.  I asked him to get back in the cockpit.  He wasn't  happy but he did it.  I let him take the tiller a bit and he helped me with the points of tack; Jack was doing great.

We made it back to the dock safely.  This was not Michael Sean's cup of tea but he really was a champ for  trying something new. It was probably the last time I would bring him out.  He was terrific but it was too boring for a little guy.

I was able to go out on my own and maintain control of the boat. with the two of them; this was a feat in itself.  I was making progress.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Night Cruise

I was only able to join Charlie and his friends once for a night sail.  It was awesome.  The boat was huge and it was a totally different experience.  The sailor boyfriend of my twenties only had a 25 foot sailboat.  The views of the Capital and monuments from the river were amazing.  It was dark on the river and the shores on both sides glowed with light.  There was wine and cheese but since I was driving, only coke.  

Charlie let me the wheel at one point.  He guided me.  The power of the wind and sails was amazing.  The boat had a huge mast and the boom and sails were enormous.  Charlie set the course to a flashing and buoy and we cut through the black water straight to our mark.  I gave him back the helm and sat down to take in the scenery.

Sitting in the darkness with people chatting, the sound of the sail sometimes groaning, water rushing against the bow, I could hardly believe I was there.  We sailed down just south of Fort Belvoir and then came about.  Charlie used the motor on the way back to the marina.  I heard the familiar sound of the clanging halyards as we approached the docks. 

I headed to my van after bidding all a good night. I was returning to my boys who were home with a cousin, happy and content watching a show, perhaps already asleep.

In the van on my drive home, I could feel the difference in myself.   The sadness wasn't as intense.  I still ached for Rick and felt the hole in our lives but  the boys were fine.  I was fine.  It was okay to be okay.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

20, 30, 40, Charlie

There is a sailboat race each week in Annapolis, MD on the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay.  Lisa started crewing for people who had boats who raced in the regatta. She checked the internet weekly for posts of owners needing crew members. It sounded like great fun but I was a mother of two, it wasn’t going to work for me.

Courtney had taken sailing lessons in her twenties and never really got the hang of it; her goal was to feel more confident in her sailing.  She was a teacher so she was available during the day as I was.  Drama was her love and she was involved in a production near Dupont Circle in D.C.  She invited us to come and see it Lisa and I went together and had a great time.

Our days on the boat were filled with long conversations about our lives.  Lisa was just out of graduate school.  Her head was full of starting her career and meeting guys.  She entertained us with stories of her friends, prospects of dating and the ways she filled time while waiting for her security clearance.

Some days we went into Old Town Alexandria or an area south of Belle Haven for lunch.  On days we met Charlie coming in from giving sailing lesson, we invited him along.  He added a whole entire dimension to our conversations, talking about the work he did before retiring, his son, and his family. Charlie's friend owned a 40 foot sailboat that he sometimes borrowed to take night cruises  I was invited several times but with my two boys and short notice, it was difficult to plan.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Summer on the Water

Sailing on the Potomac is not ideal because in places it isn’t very wide. It doesn’t provide many opportunities for tacking.  We sailed in a Flying Scot which is a 19 foot centerboard daysailer.   These boats do not capsize easily.  Each day I learned more and more skills and I was on cloud nine.

We were required to take a written test to be Red Cross certified for sailing and that was a breeze.  We also needed to be able to demonstrate our skills on the boat.  Charlie had us take turns at the helm.  Each time we had the tiller, we did better.  By the end of the two weeks, I wasn’t fully confident of my skills but I was getting there.

The sailing school offered this great deal; they gave a free week of sailboat rental following the end of the course.  Courtney, Lisa and I decided to meet each morning around 10:00 a.m. at the dock.  As long as there was fair weather and some wind we’d sail.  Each of us had a week of free rentals; one would call and make the reservation in her name.  This gave us three weeks.   Of course, sometimes our schedules, life,  or other commitments would prevent us from sailing some days but basically, we sailed all summer.

With the three of us in the boat or even two, for that matter, we could continue to practice all that Charlie had taught us.  At the dock, Chip would give us advice for making it out of the cove and give any warning that was necessary.  We all waved to Charlie giving lessons if he was on the water when we were out.  The practice made all the difference in our confidence and skills.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

All Aboard

Jack was a little nervous the first day but once he made it into a boat, he was in heaven.  I met my class in the office.  There was Charlie, a single, retired CIA employee, in his early 60s.  In the group were two other women, one in her twenties, one in her thirties. 

As we walked to the dock to get on the boat, I could feel the soft wind from the south and smell the river.  I can’t say it was the most pleasant smell but it was great all the same.  The marina is owned by the National Park Service and the there are trails through the marsh and a picnic area with pavilions and grassy areas.

As we neared the dock, the campers from the sailing school were receiving some dry land instruction before getting on the boats.  I saw Jack and waved.  He was grinning ear to ear.

We met Chip, the dock master.  He looked to be the surfer-type dude, wearing his red long trunks, no shirt and going barefoot.  His long sun- bleached hair was down past his shoulders and he was tanned brown head to toe.  He gave us a ride to where the sailboat was moored.

This was where Charlie began.  He explained how to get the boat and sails ready. He was methodical in his teaching and repetition.  He would pose questions and help us to problem-solve on our own.  We learned right of way, how to set the sails and a little about tacking.  Charlie took us out on the river and had each of us take the tiller.  He taught us the commands used by the captain and we practiced and repeated all the things he told us.  We were also expected to read up on a training booklet before the next day.

There was time to talk on the boat too.  The other sailors were Courtney who was a teacher in a private school in D.C. and Lisa who had just graduated from Johns Hopkins with a degree in International Relations and was waiting for security clearance to begin at the Agency.  They were both pleasant and we got along well.

When we were out on the river we saw the kids on sunfish, all in a rainbow of colors.  There were two on a boat and we passed Jack coming in.  He waved again and was looking pretty proud of himself.  We continued to the mooring and Charlie went through how to take the sails down and stow the gear.  Chip was our escort back to the dock again.

It was a thrill to be out on the water with the sun in my face; I loved looking at the water, the sails and the beauty between the marshes and its wildlife and the Capitol and Washington Monument off in the distance.  We said our goodbyes and I went to sit on a picnic table near the van to wait for Jack.

I loved this; Jack loved this.  We talked about our adventure all the way back to our house.  This was an empowering experience and I was looking forward to the two weeks.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I had totally lost my joy of teaching, my joy of reading, my joy of gardening.  I felt like a dud.  I did what I was supposed to do at work; actually I did more one on one remediation than I had ever before.  I didn’t feel like I could concentrate long enough to read, sort of couldn’t allow myself to escape the reality of me.  I was interested in the gardening at the new home but it was a bit overwhelming to think about getting started.

I remembered awhile back that Steve told me that they offered a sailing camp for kids down in Alexandria on the Potomac River.  While reading the paper one day, I saw an advertisement for the sailing camp.  It was at Belle Haven Marina.  This is what I wanted to do.  I spoke to Jack and he was excited about the prospect of sailing camp.

The plan was that Jack would be in camp 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and I would take sailing lessons 10:00 to noon.  Michael Sean would go to the Miss Doreen’s and get to play with his pals. 

The first day of sailing I drove down to the marina.  It is next to a public park and has a boat launch.  There are boat slips, dry dock areas and a small shack that houses the rentals of canoes, kayaks, sailboats and serves as a sailing school.

From the Photo Gallery of the Belle Haven Marina, Mariner Sailing School:

I heard the clanging of the halyards as soon as I got out of the van.  The sound took me back to my dating days when I was seeing Gary.  I accompanied him in his search for a sailboat, took dry sailing lessons (offered by the local Coast Guard), went on the maiden voyage of “Overtime” and spent two years sailing the Chesapeake Bay.  I never actually took sailing lessons from an instructor.  I had the head knowledge from the course and occasionally took over the tiller. 

In my new single state, I wanted to do the things I would never have gotten the chance to do had I still been married.  This was something I had longed to do for a long time.  There was no room in our life for something like this; I was so excited to get started.  This would be “my time.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Surviving the Year

There really was something significant about reaching the finish line of the first year.  Everything was the same, still widowed with two children, still a teacher, still a little stressed in trying to adjust.  I read a post last week about another widow; in her blog she asked, why is it that everyone focuses on the first year.  I think the answer is because the emotions and grief are so intense every day of the first year.  For me, the subsequent days seem to pale by comparison. I would never be over loss, but I did find a place to put the pain that wasn't as stinging with time.

I had not put in for being alone.  A friend later told me that his motto in life is, "If it's meant to be, it's up to me."  I found that to be an empowering statement.  I had a choice to be overwhelmed with my new life or to choose to make my happiness given new circumstances.  There are silver linings. I am a strong woman; I know that, but didn't have any idea just how strong, until faced with tremendous obstacles.

When my son was dropped suddenly by a girlfriend a few years later, I was so pained to see him suffer.  As I tried to comfort him I said, "This is small potatoes, Jack.  We have been through so much.  We lost Daddy and never expected to be the same. You are strong; this is a bump in the road.  I know that it hurt,s but you have survived so much more. This is her loss; you are going to be fine."

On the day Rick died, I couldn't see my world or future without him.  Time was my friend as I climbed the mountain of the first year; it was hard to see where I was going.  All that seemed to lie ahead was more difficulty. However, reaching the summit gave me a vista of possibilities.  It wouldn't be easy and there were still many pitfalls ahead, but I had made progress.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Year Mark

We had made it through the first year and then some.  We were in our new home.  It was quite an adventure; I was extremely excited to think about decorating this house and making it my own,  It was a clean palette.

I remember when Rick and I first met.  He was working in a furniture store and I was barely getting by as a teacher.  I had thought before I was married that it would be awesome to decorate a home with my spouse until he really wanted to.  When I saw his apartment, I knew that it was not going to be easy to mesh our two tastes. Rick's taste was more modern; mine was very traditional.

Being at the new house meant that I could really make it my own.  Although I had lived on my own before getting married.  I had a very limited budge and very limited opportunity with my roommate who was there first.

When  I was able to decorate, I found most of my treasures at yard sales.  I love yard sales and it was a ritual with my friend Mary.  We would get up each Saturday morning and check what was out there.  It was too much fun.

I had to get the boys set up in their rooms and then made room for the guest room.  It was such a thrilled to feel that I had some choice.  It would be my time for what I wanted it.  I had to look at the positives through the situation even if I wasn't thrilled with it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Big Day Arrives

Well, I had put a contract on a house but still had to sell my house on Poplar.  The “for sale” sign went up right away and I was ready.  Anne held an open house for realtors; it was a crazy market.  Small ramblers like mine, three bedroom and one bath homes were going quickly.

It sold in a week for $5000 more than the asking price by an older couple with grandchildren.  They didn’t even ask for a home inspection.  The realtor said that they had just lost another contract across the Boulevard and were anxious to get a contract.  It was a great relief to me.

I was left to pack the house and planned to use a moving company to actually move the majority of my things over to the house.  My brother, Dan was moving to Syracuse with his fiancĂ© and was working for a local moving company.  He got me a good price and he was one of the crew on the day of the move.  This way he could make sure everything went well.  My brother, Mike rented a truck and we moved all the yard things over on that.

The day of closing was a bit harried.  When we arrived for the final walk-through the seller wasn’t out of the house.  I made it difficult to inspect because there stuff was still in the house.  I was very frustrated with her.

After closing, it still took her two and a half more hours to get her things out of the house.  Toward the end of her move, she started to put things on the lawn of the next door neighbor’s house.  I was so relieved when she finally left.  The boys loved the house right away.  We had a ton of family and friends who helped us on the move day.  A friend of the family brought all of her family and their girls basically set up my kitchen for me.

It was not as bad as I thought it would be.  As we slowly unpacked our things, we could see that the memories of Rick were still with us.  The memories were in our hearts and in the furniture and treasures of a life together.  They were just in a different place but we didn’t lose anything in the move.