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.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

And the Grief Goes On...

Tom, Diane and I thought it would be a nice idea to continue to meet on the same evening for awhile.  We weren’t quite ready to give each other up.  There is a restaurant in the area that is easy access to the Beltway.  The Grief Group continued to meet at Grevey’s.  Yes, I know it so corny but true.

We met about four weeks in a row after the grief group ended.  Tom and Diane told me that they were dating the first week we met at the restaurant.  I told them that I saw the way Tom looked up at Diane at that first meeting and I wasn’t surprised at all.  Tom’s girls were having a hard time dealing with the thought of their dad dating but Tom said they were all grown and had lives and he wanted one too.  I was very happy for them, a little jealous but happy.

It wasn’t long before they called to tell me they were getting married.  They invited the group to Tom’s for a barbecue and made the announcement.  It was encouraging to be able to celebrate their decision.

It would have been sweet to be swept off my feet by someone but I wasn’t quite ready to think in those terms.  I had two young boys and I would need to figure many things out before I went down that road.

It was terrific to hear the updates from our friends as time passed.  One man in his seventies was busy playing Senior League Baseball.  He was having an awesome time.  Another gentleman who was really struggling during the official meetings had decided to take a car trip to Florida to visit friends.  He had made the plan and was getting ready to leave soon.  Tom had retired and was planning on spending loads of time with Diane and Diane was shutting down her organization that she had worked on with her husband, Dan..  It was a school reform organization and she realized it was time to let go.

The barbecue was a type of send off party.  I saw Tom and Diane once after that; we enjoyed a dinner together in the summer before school started. Then Tom had to have surgery on his back and he was laid up for quite a bit.  We fell out of touch after awhile.

These were “little while friends” who had played an important role in the healing of my heart.  We had touched each other with our stories and our compassion but in the end, we were meant to return to our lives.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Hard Work of Grieving

The Grief Group was hard work; it forced us all to look into our memories and deal with our feelings.  I made Jack go to a group too.  It had taken place in the fall at the same facility but of course, it was for children.  He was madder than a hornet with me.  I was concerned about him and I didn’t want to get down the road and think, “Gee, it would have been a really good idea to send him to a grief group, too bad I didn’t.”

When it was over he told me, “You know it sucked, Mom? I hated going.”  I said, “Jack, it was a grief group.  Were you expecting it to be fun?”  He wasn’t quite as amused as me.  He made several projects to memorialize Rick and brought in some pictures to help share his feelings.  Jack was very proud of the choices he made and what he shared about his dad.  In the end, it was good thing to do, even if he went kicking and screaming.  Sometimes the mom just has to be the mom.

I brought my grieving hat to share with the group at one point.  They had a good laugh.  I told them that it people what it was.  The shrink later explained about desensitizing myself to Rick’s death by talking about him and letting the feelings go.

We bonded over our grief in that room.  It was hard to listen to the stories, most were tender and raw.  With all the grief spread out all over the room, it didn’t seem as overwhelming.  It was encouraging to know that I wasn’t nuts and that others had similar thoughts and feelings.

Over the course of the eight week,s the focus shifted from memorializing to looking to the future.  This was important in the work of grieving.  I found it hard to let go of the dreams and aspirations that Rick and I had together.  For almost 15 years my future included him as a major player.  Allowing me to see a future without Rick almost seemed a betrayal.  There was something very powerful in me saying don't let go.  It is confusing; no one can answer the question when is enough time enough, for grief, for feeling sad and devastated.  No one gives you permission to be okay; you have to give yourself permission. This was one of the reasons for writing goals for the future; I'm not sure I dared to write a list on my own about a future without Rick.

We had the option at the last meeting to share our lists.  It was interesting to hear the thinking of others.  Each of us had a different take on the steps we might take.

Here is my list:

1.      Move to a new house
2.      Take sailing lessons
3.      Buy a sailboat
4.      Begin dating
5.      Remarry

The eight weeks dragged in the beginning but seemed to fly at the end.  The group became very comfortable with each other and we were sad to see it end.  I had become friends with both Tom and Diane; we planned to stay in contact with each other. It was cathartic to have done the hard work of grieving.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Grief ???

I decided in February to attend a grief group sponsored by the local hospital system.  Life with Cancer was the program at the hospital that helped when Rick was admitted to the oncology ward.  The grief group was for anyone who had lost a loved-one to cancer; it was eight weeks long and was moderated by a person who had been through the process before.

Good Grief for Adults, 8-week series
Join with others who have experienced the loss of a loved one with
cancer within the past two years to discuss and explore the grieving
 process, accepting and expressing emotions, dealing with children,
family and friends, role and lifestyle changes and coping with special

It was a strange experience to walk into a room of people who had all lost someone.  Most of the people in the room were over 60 and had lost spouses.  A man and woman in their twenties had lost a parent and about ten of us were widowed.

When I came in the room there were only a few people that had arrived.  A very tall gentleman walked in at the same time and we sat down at the table and chit chatted while we waited to begin. 

Tom had also been widowed; his wife had died in March the year before. Tom was Catholic and Irish just like me; he was friendly and talking with him put me at ease. We exchanged some details of our losses and then the meeting began.

Megan, the moderator introduced herself and told the short story of her being widowed and how she had attended this group as a participant.  She then invited us to go around the room and share our names and quick story.

I always felt that I was quite fortunate in my circumstances.  Yes, Rick was dead and I had two children but I had two children, my reason for getting up in the morning, my reason for living, my reason for being happy with whatever God brought me next.  I sat listening to these people and my heart broke for them.  Many described their loneliness, their depression, their emptiness; I found it difficult to keep from crying right along with them.

Diane walked into the meeting late; I saw Tom look at her as she walked in the room.  She apologized for being late and sat down and joined in with introducing herself and then the meeting continued.  Diane talked about her husband who had suffered from cancer for three years who had only died in December.

I went last and told them about Rick’s cancer and quick death.  They were all horrified that I had two young children.  Several of them said how hard it must be caring for the boys alone. I was quick to tell them that my loss was a loss, no greater or less than theirs; each a huge burden that left a gaping hole in our lives.  Hearing how others coped with their loss made me look at my loss in a different way.

My mother used to always say, “It could always be worse!”  Live examples of that were sitting right across from me at the table. 

My mind was stirred by all the talk and discussion of those we lost.  We did one writing activity before we left and that was to make a list of five things we wanted to accomplish in the next five years.  We wrote them to ourselves and didn’t have to share them but the idea was to set some goals for our future.  As I sat there writing, I thought the list was a little out there.  Then, we were given exercises to complete and return at the next session. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Our Way

Buying a house can be a scary thing.  I came home from signing and had instant memory lapses of what I just bought.  These were not the days of digital cameras.  I tried to remember what I saw.  They were the smaller details as this house was similar to Karen’s and Paul’s home without a large addition they had in the back.

A fair-sized living room and dining room were to the left as I walked in.  There was Berber carpet going up the stairs to the second floor.  To the right was a small powder room, nothing fancy or redecorated.  Down the short hall was the kitchen, my favorite room.  It had a vinyl floor, bright and shiny with light oak colored cabinets and a new counter top.  The sink and appliances were all new.  It was spacious and had a great closet for a pantry with louvered doors.

There was a small family room to the right with a brick fireplace; the back wall had sliding glass doors that led to the sunroom.  This is where I was excited to get started decorating.  This room was surrounded by four sets of sliding doors and topped with two skylights.

It had a partially finished basement where the boys could hang out and the other side had a nice wash area.  There was terrific storage space with a crawl space that was completely dry and enclosed.  I would finally have enough room for our things!

Upstairs were for bedrooms and two full baths.  The master bedroom was so enormous compared to Poplar Rd and had a big walk-in closet.

The house was eight doors down the street from Karen and Paul.  I was happy that everything just fell together.  The house was a clean palate with neutral colors everywhere.  The landscaping would need work but that would wait.

I brought the boys over to see the house and they immediately fell in love with it.  The novelty of being down the street from their cousins was enough to seal the deal for them.  We were on our way. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Tamarack Estate

Each day brought me closer to the one year mark.  In January, I began the walk in my head of all that Rick had gone through.  Valentine's Day arrived with nothing from my Valentine but my Dad and Mom sent me a package and my brother and sister in-law sent me flowers to ease the pain.  They were very sweet gestures.

Valentine's Day had always been a day for the girls in our family.  With a household full of boys, it was the one day that my dad made a big deal out of my mom, Patty and me.  My mom got the giant candy heart with so many piece of chocolate.  Patty and I got the medium sized heart with a silk flower on it filled with chocolates and all the boys got a small plain red heart with candy.  When I got married my dad no longer sent the valentine to me.  On this Valentine's Day, it meant a lot to me.  I was still his valentine.

Rick was always one to look either forward or backward and say, "What were we doing a year ago today?  I wonder what we will be doing five years from now?"  I found myself asking those questions often to no one in particular, just me.

By April, I had called Anne Johnson, the real estate agent to take a look at the house so that I could follow her recommendations.  I wanted to move over the summer when I was off from school so I wanted to start looking in May for our new house.  Anne had her eyes on the market for anything in the neighborhood we wanted that might pop up.

One day, Karen called me to tell me that a woman down the street had put her house on the market and was selling the property herself.  Karen said to grab the local paper to see the listing that was in there.  I called Anne and told her I was going to go look at it.  It was scheduled for Sunday and I wanted to go alone.

It was pouring rain the afternoon of the open house.  I walked up the drive to the front door and there was Kathy Monteclavo; I knew her from going to neighborhood Pamper Chef parties.  She looked as bewildered as I felt.  As she opened the door we greeted each other and I said , "Kathy, I'm not positive I'm buying yet."  She laughed and said, "That's good because I'm not sure I'm selling."  Our laughter broke the ice; she encouarged me to take a look around and I did.

My criteria for the house was that it had to be in good shape.  As a widow, I wouldn't want to be doing major repair jobs.  They had a fire the year before in their dishwasher that cause quite a bit of damage.  The kitchen was brand new with new appliances.  Her decorating left a lot to be desired but the house was growing on me the more I looked.  I thanked her and told her that I would be in touch.

I went home and called Anne and told her that I wanted her to see it and give me her opinion.  We made an appointment to go the next day after school.  Anne liked everything about it but encouraged me to insist on the home inspection which I got.  We went to her office and signed the contract and then she told me she would call Kathy and just to hold tight.  Everything was finalized the following day but was contingent on the home inspection.  The ball was rolling,  The whole nine yards and all the way around...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ruthie Ropig, Rocks and Memories

The day before we moved into Poplar Road, Rick was painting Jack’s room.  Jack did not want to move and had said as much.  Rick said “What letter do you want me to make on the wall?” “A W!” cried Jack.  That was all it took, he loved his new room.  As soon as Jack could see that his same things were in the new house, he was okay with it. 

There were so many memories in this house we called home for 10 years.  Rick had planted a Blue Spruce tree on the side of the house.  It was as tall as Jack at two years old.  It had grown to about eight foot by the time Rick had died.  “We can always come see the trees, Jack,” they will still be here.  We had also planted a redbud, and a sycamore and many, many, many bushes.

Ruthie Ropig was a statue that stood in the middle of the triangle of garden by the front door.  I had been at a flea market in Leesburg and saw it.   I wanted her so badly.  I came all the way and told Rick about it; he told me to go back and get it if I really wanted it.  I drove like a wild woman back to Leesburg to get it before someone else snatched it up.  I loved it.

Jack and I would sit on the front bench in the evenings waiting for Rick to arrive home after his 14 minute commute.  I usually had supper waiting for us as soon as he walked in the door.  One day as we were waiting for Rick to arrive, Jack noticed the statue.   “What’s her name, Mama?”  “Her name is Ruthie Roszel,” I explained.  “No it’s not!” he said.  “It’s Ruthie Ropig!” “I don’t think I like that name,”  I said.  However from that day forward she was known as Ruthie Ropig. 

We also had crazy things like big rocks.  Big rocks to anyone else were big rocks; to us, they told a story.  There was a large on at the end of our path to the drive.  It had been there since we moved in.  It was rather round and flat, just right for sitting on while mom planted impatiens.   There was another that had come from the lake on a trip up to visit my parents.  I took it from the lake shore.  Another was from the rock wall at 192 Groton Avenue where we grew up.

To anyone else these were insignificant things but to us they told the stories of our lives.  These were what Jack did not want to leave behind as we were thinking about leaving.  To my son, seeing the familiar, the cherished and loved were what made him feel good.  It was going to take some convincing to get him to let go of some things in order to move.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Whole Nine Yards and All the Way Around

I love my realtor, Annie Johnson.  Rick and I were dreaming of a single family home and took a walk around the shopping center where we grocery shopped.  We looked in the window at the homes they had posted on the window.  We had only been in our townhouse for less than a year.  When we bought the townhouse we took an FHA loan so we only needed a small down payment.  We managed to wiggle our way into it.  Jack was about eighteen months when we moved in.

I read in the paper that the Feds were raising the ceiling on FHA homes due to the sudden surge in home prices.  First time buyers were being forced out of the market.  When we purchased the townhouse it was at $104,000; our purchase price was $104,000.  I was willing to gamble if we priced our home at $120,000, it would sell.  Rick was not the risk-taker; I was and I was ready to take a chance.

We walked into the office and there at the front desk was a warm, pretty woman of about 45 smiling at us.  This was Anne Johnson, born in Tennessee, y’all.  She talked faster than anyone I had ever met and ended almost every sentence with “the whole nine yards and all the way around.”  Anne was a character, a hard worker and understood our struggle. 

She agreed that my plan might work and came to the townhouse a few days later and made some recommendations for fix-up but it was in really good shape already so they were minor.  Anne had the house on the market in a week.  The MLS listing went in the computer at 8 a.m., the sign went up on the front lawn at 11 a.m. and we had a contract by that evening.  I was amazed and delighted at the same time.

Anne had been an interior decorator; her husband was retired military.  She took up real estate to put her three boys through college.  She had lived in the Sterling Park since her boys were young and knew every nook and cranny worth looking at.  We had two weeks to find a home and we saw plenty.   It was only after one contract wasn’t accepted that we found the house on Poplar Rd.  Rick was the one who saw the potential.  I knew what a coat of paint would do and some hard work.  It was the one and they accepted our contract.

Jack and Michael loved our house.  The backyard had nooks and crannies just right for using their imagination.  They had a fort with swings, a vegetable garden they helped their dad with, a secret hiding place behind they shed and up on the roof where they could stare over the fence.  Rick had a hammock that was hung right between two big maple trees.  We all climbed in and looked up into the trees and listened to a mockingbird that frequented our yard.

The slab of concrete patio was surrounded by a six foot privacy fence when we moved in.  We put up our own fence on the perimeter of the property to keep people from passing through our yard and Jack safe.  I had Rick cut the fence in half and put the top back on.  I kept the side that faced our neighbors up so we had privacy and the rest opened our yard up.  I stained it redwood.  I guess I felt like we did a lot with the little we had.

Rick hung a tire swing in the big maple.  Jack would swing for hours and climb the tree; he loved being outside.  They played baseball in the side yard and would hit wiffle balls over the roof of the house into the street from the backyard.

We had a small dining room.  My aunt had given me a beautiful mahogany table and chair set and I wound a dry sink at a yard sale.  My favorite memories are of having tea parties with my boys when Rick had to work on a day we had off from school.  I would make tea and crumpets and serve the boys tea in fine china cups.  They loved it.

Moving was in our plan and I was ready to move closer to family.  It was the right decision.  I just needed to contact Anne and get the ball rolling. Yep, the whole nine yards and all the way around!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Location, Location

Our house was located on a corner lot but backed to a town home community common ground.  This was quite lucky, since we knew that no one would build there and that we would maintain our privacy.  Our lot looked like a large wedge of pie; the crust was the street and the sides were my neighbors on one side and the common ground on the other side.  It had a very large front yard and smaller backyard but it was just right for us.

The location was perfect for many things one of which was having yard sales.  I would just put a sign out on the corner and get a ton of people. I had a yard sale after we had pared down our belongings. My boys thought a sale was great.  Both of them get very attached to their possessions but as long as I said they could keep the money from the sale, they were a little more cooperative about getting rid of things.

When I was little, my mom would tell us that we had to clean out our things and get them ready for the poor people.  In my mind, I could picture poor, unfortunate children with no toys or clothing.  I was prepared to give them everything I owned.  Every time I said that to my boys when they were growing up they would say, “I hate the poor people.  I’m not giving them anything.”  I don’t know how it happened that they came to be so selfish.  They had so much in comparison to me or my siblings but they didn’t want to give anything up.

Michael is still so damaged from my donating some of his favorite picture books to his second grade teacher that he still hasn’t forgiven me.  He is always making reference to some book I gave away.  I’ve had to go on Ebay several times to resurrect some obscure title from his preschool years that I “ripped out of his hands” to give to the poor people.

I used to have people just stop at my house and ask me if they could provide some service.  The very first time it happened it was a driveway company. A young guy in his early twenties knocked on my door and wanted to know if I was interested in having our driveway replaced.  It was a mess and I was interested but had little cash reserve.  I asked if he would allow me to pay him in two installments.  He said yes and off he went having only charged me $600.  He arrived the next morning and installed a beautiful thick driveway.  I was beside myself.  I paid him $300 that day and the balance the next month.  What terrific luck!  Had we called a paving company, it would have been at least $1200.

We also had people stop by asking for yard work which we usually declined.  However, two times when limbs had fallen from large trees, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take advantage of our lucky location.

We lived in that small house for ten years.  During that time, we replaced the windows, the stove, dishwasher, washer, furnace and air conditioning.  We had transformed the outside with landscaping, new shutters, new fence and I had painted the house myself.  Even though I was looking forward to moving, we had many fond memories from the place.  In the end, it would be difficult to move…

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Night Out

We talked about Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Mike said he wanted to read it so I lent it to him.  I read it when my mom was with me.  I was in my room reading and got so depressed reading it that I would come out to her and say, “Mom, it has no redeeming value. It was doom and gloom and gloom and doom!  I did not like it.  I may have felt that it was too close to my grandparents’ lives; I didn’t want to imagine in my mind the hopelessness.  I was biased with my total Irish roots.

Mike was going to his mom’s house the next evening to play piano with a group that played together.  He described it as a classical group.  Most of the members were as old as his mom; he was the baby of the group but liked to play with them.  His family grew up on the mountain.  It may have been Rag Mountain.  I was so taken with the vision that he conjured up in my head that I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.

He asked me if I played and I told him that I played guitar and sang.  He wanted me to play for him then and there in my house but I passed.  I told him that if he played his piano for me I would play my guitar and sing for him.  The deal was made;  I would drive out to his home and he would be my guest for dinner and then we would go to his house for a musical evening.

Mike lived in a circle of duplex homes. He complained about how the neighborhood had changed and that he wanted to move further west.  We took my van and drove to one of the local restaurants in town.  He had recommended it. It was Tarara Mill.  It was lovely.

Mike had a way of telling a story that would get me roaring laughing.  He had done the electrical job for this establishment and so he was pointing out his electrical talents and track lighting, very impressive.

The dinner was fabulous.  I enjoyed filet mignon and he had the fish followed by cups of coffee.  It was a slow relaxing feeling in the restaurant.  We just enjoyed the time to talk.

We drove back to the house and  there was the baby grand piano.  It dwarfed the rest of the room; it was beautiful.  I could have just spent some time staring at it.  Mike was an awesome player.  He played some Bach and Beethoven pieces.  He was so impressive.

I was feeling a bit out of my league.  This was sort of like I’ll give you a ride in my Lexus if you give me a ride on your Neon.  A deal was a deal though, I got out my guitar and tuned it up. Then I played sang him a few tunes.  House at Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins and Four Green Fields by Tommy Maken and a few others.

Mike liked hearing me sing and I loved hearing him play.  It was just a fun evening.  We had truly enjoyed our time together.  I knew that we would probably see each other again as he would do the repair work I would need when I purchased a new home.

As much as I would have loved to explore a relationship or a few dates with him, I got the feeling that he was very used to playing the field.  I am sure that he looked at my sad life and saw a woman still dealing with her grief and her two kids.  I had a great time and that was the memory to keep and of course, his phone number which I used often in the future.

1.      Beware of bad boys
2.      Intelligence is very attractive
3.      A sense of humor is essential
4.      Self-sufficiency is expected
5.      A lovely dinner with conversation and a treat at the end of the evening is a great date

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Classical Pianist Electrician

I needed some electrical work done so I looked in the local yellow pages.  I came across a listing for Mike McDonnell.  We spoke on the phone and he told me he would be at my house after work to get an idea of the job and then we could set up a time for him to come to do the work.

We had a chandelier in the dining room of the house that had been a gift from our realtor when we moved in.  It was beautiful and she had her husband who was a fix-it guy do the installation.  It never really worked right.  All thought it was on a dimmer switch, I wouldn’t turn off.  We had to unscrew the bulbs to turn it off.

You might be thinking why would anyone do that?  When we moved in, we made it by the skin of our teeth financially.  We didn’t have the luxury in our minds of spending $300 on a light repair so we didn’t.  It seems silly now but it was a reality at the time.

Mike came over the following day and took a look at the things I needed for him to do.  I needed him to fix the exhaust fan in the bathroom and check the electrical outlets, in addition to the dining room light.  I bought a new light for the lamp pole out front and had him change out the light fixtures outside near the front and back doors.

He arrived on a Saturday morning to work on the list I had given him.  He was a local guy in his forties who lived in Leesburg and had grown up on a mountain south of there.  He had quite a southern accent; he worked for Loudoun County as an electrical inspector.  Mike was a talker.  I followed him around because I wanted to ask him questions about the house and see if he had any suggestions about the house.

We discovered that we had read some of the same books; he was an avid reader too.  He played classical piano and had a baby grand in his living room at home.  Mark was very interesting and had a terrific sense of humor.  I liked him right away.  He was there several hours and we talked quite a bit.  He made me laugh and I hadn’t done that in a long time.

When he had finished, I hardly charged me for anything.  I think it was since I was widowed and had just gone through a tough time with the Red-Headed Roofer.   I told him that I couldn’t let him do that so I offered to buy him dinner and told him if he played piano for me, I would sing and play guitar for him.  We made a date for the following weekend.
I was astounded at what a bold article I was asking him out to dinner.  It was simply to return a favor but I was interested in him.  We talked several times on the phone.  I can’t remember why but his parrot would talk to him.  He told me he thought that she should be on Prozac and had to wear a cone because she kept preening her feathers so much that she was tearing off all her feathers.

Mike had a son but hadn’t been married.  He had lived with his son’s mom but it didn’t work out. The baby was the result of a one night stand, not much to build a relationship on.   I could tell it was a source of great pain for him.  Mike later told me that the woman had been raped at one point in her life and had a lot of issues that she couldn’t overcome.  His son lived with his mom but Mark saw him often.

I have rarely met someone whom I felt that I knew immediately; this is how Mike was.  I think that we both were attracted to each other and loved talking and sharing each other’s company.  Perhaps it was that we were both lonely.  I felt uneasy about the “date” which was more like a payback of a favor.  It was the first time I considered going out with anyone after Rick so it was significant.  I was excited.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Red-Headed Roofer from Hell

I rue the day I called the Acme Roofing Company of Northern Virginia.  This was the day that the Red-Headed Roofer from Hell arrived at my doorstep.  He was short, around 5’ 6”, had the construction, rough-look going and was courteous and made me a good offer on his estimate of the job.

Our roof sort of sagged on one end of the house and I was looking for someone to not only replace the roof but to fix the problem.  I knew that it would be extra and was willing to pay for it.  I wanted someone with structural expertise of roofs.  I specifically had him add language to the contract that conveyed that the problem would be corrected.  I signed and gave him half of the amount and waited for his call.

He called a week later with a Saturday date which was fine with me because I wouldn’t have to take off work to be there.  I have a strong disdain for home repair people; I have a long sordid list of stories that helped me acquire such feelings.  Jim was a no-show on Saturday, aggravating!  He called later in the day to say that he could come the following day, Sunday.  I wasn’t pleased because it was a day that I had planned to go to plant flowers at Rick’s mom’s house.  I would be gone for the afternoon.  He told me that it was no problem; he would see me in the morning.

Just as I was about to get into the van to leave, Jim and his men pulled up in front of the house.  I had told him that I couldn’t be there and he assured me that it was fine.  I had two electrical outlets on the outside of the house that they could use.  I gave him my cell phone number and left them to work on my house.

I arrived home later that day and there was no sign of them.  They finished the roof and left.  I looked up at the roof as I drove in and noticed that the roof was still sagging…NOT HAPPY!  I walked across the street to look from there and my neighbor came out to look; she agreed, sagging.  I couldn’t do anything then so I waited until the next day.

I made the call and spoke to company representative.  I told the person that the job was not done to my satisfaction and that I wanted it fixed.  Jim called me back later with a bit of an attitude.  He said he would meet me at my home the next evening.  He came to my house and walked around it with me, telling me that there was nothing wrong with the roof.  I told him that was fine but that I wasn’t satisfied and wouldn’t pay the balance until it was fixed.

Jim was more than a little miffed with me.  He got very frustrated and started yelling at me.  We were standing in the backyard near the gate and I said, “Get out of my yard now!”  He started yelling, “You’re crazy!  You’re going to pay me!” Then he threw something he had in his hand across my yard.  I closed and locked my gate went in my house and called the police.

Jack was very scared and Michael was looking antsy; they knew something was wrong.  When the police officer arrived at the door, Jim and his truck were gone.  The officer took a report and advised me to call his company and warn them not to send him out to the house again.  I was a nervous wreck and frightened that he would return.  The officer told me that I should call as soon as I saw him if he should return.  I thanked him and he left.

I called the company and left a detailed message to have a supervisor call me back.  He called me the next day and agreed to come out and inspect the job.

The supervisor, Tom was not pleased with the job either.  He looked into the attic to see what the problem was: as I had suspected, there was a structural problem.  I paid for the materials to fix it.  Jim had not done the job.  The company sent out another roofer who completed the job.

I know that problems with home repair issues are not fun for anyone.  I also know that one has to be practical with expectations; it will never look perfect.  However,  as a widow, I already felt vulnerable without Rick.  The Red-Headed Roofer just made life one bit more miserable at the time.  I have used many home repair people since and have had my fair share of both good and bad experiences.  It comes with the territory but since I was already on the edge, I didn't really need one more thing.