Back Country Cure

Banff, Canada
permission to disconnect
Man riding horse in wilderness
Photo by Hector Perez

I recently discovered an article in the National Geographic that warmed my heart and spun my memory back three-quarters of a century.

Ray Knell, a Green Beret and a ten-year Afghanistan combat veteran undertook a 1,000-mile wilderness ride from Colorado to Montana along North America’s Continental Divide. He completed his trek using wild mustangs because the horse gave him focus and allowed him to disconnect. This he needed to do to heal his own PTSD. He also hoped to set an example that other traumatized veterans could follow.

an ancient syndrome – a new guise
WW I - Men in trenches
Photo from British Library

The term PTSD didn’t enter my vocabulary until the early 1980s. Many of my classmates, men and women, had served in the armed forces in the Vietnam Conflict. They returned home suffering from a disabling array of mental disturbances. Due to the controversial nature of the war, their suffering may have been worse than that experienced in the past. But it was not a new syndrome. Ancient documents describe post-combat symptoms similar to the high levels of stress and anxiety the young combatants of the 1970s experienced.

One evening after my children were in bed, a close friend from college, now decommissioned and on his way home to St. Paul, stopped to spend the night at our home. He arrived at ten at night, hungry and tired.  I fixed him a B. L.T. “Ah,” he said, “this is the kind of food we dreamed about in ‘Nam.” He and I sat up long past midnight. I tried not to cry as I listened to the horror stories he had to tell. I prayed there would be a source of solace for him once he stepped again on Minnesota soil.

And I finally understood the full meaning of a journey I had taken when I was not quite four years old.

detour on the way home

1946 ChevroletEarly in the morning of the Memorial Day weekend, 1946, my dad John De Jager, slid behind the enormous wheel of his family’s retooled 1942, four-door, Chevy sedan. His right arm across the wide front seat, he checked to make sure all was set in back. His brother, my Uncle Jimmy, sat in the passenger seat, resting a brawny arm along the open car window. In the back I commanded one window seat and my grandmother, the other. My brother John, who was almost two years old, sat on a booster chair between us. The trunk of the car had been piled high with suitcases, and we still had some containers under our feet. As my Dad turned the key and started the big engine, I knelt up and leaned my arms on the back ledge to wave a wild good-bye to family we left standing in the drive-way.

WW II Sailor kissing girl
Photo by Jorge Gardner

World War II had officially ended the September before when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.  Sometime during the winter my uncle had been discharged from the Navy. Throughout the war, he had served on ships in the Pacific as a radar specialist and seldom saw the light of day. On the evening he had returned to us, he swooped in and grabbed me and swung me around the room. Then he plopped his navy cap on my head.  “Here, Judy,” he said. “It’s all yours. I’m done fighting.”

to be whole again
Ranch in Canada
Photo by Jon Phillips

It seemed that we had my dad’s happy-go-lucky brother back. But we didn’t. What I wouldn’t know until later was that Jimmy wasn’t able to concentrate at the job that was waiting for him. He joined his family on Sunday at church, but no longer joined in the hymns. Worst of all nightmares caused him to wake the family in the middle of the night with his screams. The family doctor advised a “rest cure.”

Because his mother had grown-up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, the family decided what Jimmy needed was time away from Detroit, its crowds and its demand. He needed the wide-open spaces and the down-to-earth labor of the ranch to help him regain his equilibrium.

Jimmy wasn’t the only one suffering from the aftermath of the conflict that had taken the lives of millions, leaving the survivors reeling in shock.  My mother’s only brother, John, had died in combat in Belgium, shortly after her father had succumbed to a heart attack. Deep in mourning herself, she struggled to stay strong for her mother.

Grieving older woman
Photo by Christian Newman

My grandmother sat in darkened rooms staring at old photos and shunning society. She had been a woman who loved dancing, singing, cooking and entertaining. She had given the reception for my mother’s wedding in her backyard, doing all the decorations and food preparation on her own. But now, nothing interested her. My mother fear for her mental health. Her concerns for her mother distracted her from caring for my brother and me. She did not, of course, neglect us, but could get no real joy from being a mother.

What I understand today is that my entire family lived under the pall of post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, they had no name to give it. They only knew the world was at peace, but that peace eluded them.

follow the sun
Yellowstone National Park
Photo by Paula Hayes

The little girl happily waving goodbye from the backseat of the Chevy only knew she was off on an adventure. For my Dad who would be returning to Detroit and my mother, this was his vacation. Everything about it looms in my memory like scenes from a fantasy or a fairy tale. The geysers at Yellowstone National Park both frightened and delighted me. The mountains in Glacier National Park suggested hidden homes of giants and elves. I was certain that the hotel on Lake Louise as we neared our destination was actually a palace.

Our last stop before the ranch was my Great-Grandmother Koopman’s home in Banff. I’ve never forgotten that since wasn’t at home when we arrived. So, my father hoisted me on his shoulders to crawl in through the open kitchen window.  I landed in the sink and scrambled down to the linoleum. It was getting dark and I didn’t know which way to go in the strange house, but my father was shouting, “Find the front door.”

I tentatively peered through a door. No ghosts.  Just a gigantic dining room table and chairs.  I crept around it, holding onto the backs of the chairs as though I needed to be anchored to the floor.  Through an archway, I saw a living room full of plastic-covered heavy furniture, and, thankfully, a big white paneled door. I let go of a chair and ran to the door, twisted the lock and let my family in.  My Great-Gran was quite surprised to find us all sitting in her living room when she arrived home. It was late at night when we turned off the gravel highway onto the rutted, dirt driveway into the ranch, but my Great-Aunt Elsa waited with a lantern on the back porch as we drove up. She engulfed me in a giant bear hug that felt just right.

living with heroes
Cowboy on ranch
Photo by Flo P

From that moment on the whole summer was one magical adventure for me. I trailed my great-aunt wherever she went. Together we fed chickens, milked cows, baked bread, and tended her kitchen garden.  I suppose my little brother was there somewhere, but in my memory, it’s just my great-aunt and me.  I do remember we had a second birthday party for my brother and all the cowhands attended.  The cowhands lent a great deal of mystique to that summer. Their worn, wide-brimmed leather hats and the leather chaps that protected their Levi’s transformed them into mythical creatures for me. I loved getting up at the crack of dawn so I could share their breakfast hour.

daring deeds
Soaring hawk
Phot by Ezequiel Garridao

My other favorite ranch characters were my teenage cousins, who worked the ranch, but took particular pride in protecting the chickens from the hawks. This entailed getting behind the wheel of an enormous pre-War auto and careening around the ranch.  One cousin would drive while the others clung to the running boards, rifles in hand.  They let me ride on the back window ledge for these excursions.  As we hurtled along back and forth, the boys would take aim and more often than not bring down a hawk. Why my great-aunt let me go on such outings I have no idea, but child raising practices were different back then.

some happy endings
Child hugging older woman
Photo by Ekaterina Shakharova

At the end of the summer Dad brought my mother with him to pick us up.  After a summer on the ranch, my uncle felt better able to resume civilian life. had been just what he needed. My parents stayed a few days to rest for the return trip to Detroit. But when it was time to go, I clung to my great-aunt and begged to stay.  I told her, “I want you to be my mommy.” The look of betrayal on my mother’s face is one I’ll never forget.  Yet, I persisted. Instinct warned me perhaps that life with my traumatized mother would never be easy.  But four-year old don’t get to decide their fate. I had to give my great-aunt one last hug and climb in the car.  It was the last time I visited Alberta. Maybe my mother didn’t dare take me back.

“We were not allowed to speak of the unseen wounds of war. We were not allowed to prepare for them.” Thank You For Your Service Brig. General Loree Sutton,

What are your earliest memories of human warfare?

Fate Plays Cupid

Cupid and Psyche
Abstract, couple with childwinning the lottery

In the summer of 2018, I wrote a blog post which I titled, “You Won the Lottery, but You Didn’t Know It.” “The chance,” I wrote, “that you would not be is so far greater than the chance that you would have come into being as the unique person you are is almost incalculable. Literally millions of events in human history needed to occur just the way they did for the moment to arise when your father’s sperm successfully penetrated your mother’s egg. Once this miracle happened, the layers of environments surrounding the tiny zygote from the womb to the universe formed a coherent protective whole that assured you would be born.”

To dwell on this reality can be mind boggling. Just ask yourself, “What if my mom never met my dad?” or “What if my parents met, but never loved?”

That very thing almost happened to me.

dreams can be complicated

In 1935 twenty-year old Peggy Luger, the girl who would be my mother,

Workers during Great Depression
Photo by Sonder Quest

achieved her life-long dream. She graduated from nursing school. Unfortunately, she emerged from the cocoon of nursing school into a chaotic economic crisis. The Great Depression, the severe economic downturn that lasted from 1929 to 1939, affected the whole world.  In the United States, industrial production declined by 47 percent. Mass unemployment increased the rates of poverty and homelessness.

Pittsburg, PA
Photo by Jonathan Rivera

Yet, for Peggy, the immediate future glimmered with hope. Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she had trained, could offer her a position as a ward nurse. Another bright light in Peggy’s life, Frank O’Donnell, had proposed to her the evening of her graduation. She had worked over the past year with Frank, an intern at the hospital. A stocky, personable Irishman with a thick head of black hair and merry grey eyes, Frank had captured a lot of nurses’ hearts. Peggy liked him and she was flattered. She did not, however, feel she knew him well enough to accept his proposal.  Nursing students were not allowed to date. Now that she had graduated, she wanted to get to know him better outside the hospital setting. With supreme confidence that he knew the way to a girl’s heart, Frank agreed to wait for an answer.

first comes family – maybe
Downtown Detroit, MI
Photo by Alex Brisbey

Peggy struggled with another concern. She was considering leaving Pittsburgh because her parents had moved to Detroit, Michigan. Her father had been out of work for three long years, most of the time she had studied nursing. Her mom had kept food on the table by selling cleaning products door-to-door.  Neither of them would listen to Peggy’s pleas that she leave nursing school and help out.  She could help best, they insisted, by becoming a nurse. Last year her father finally found employment. But his new job as a draftsman for a construction company meant he had to move. Peggy’s young brother John had gone with them. Although she had aunts, uncles and cousins in Pittsburgh, her parent’s absence left a huge hole in her heart. She didn’t want to live so far away from them.

Romance must wait

Vintage photo -nurse treating boyShe decided to apply for a position at Providence Hospital in Detroit just to see what happened. Because her grades had been stellar and her recommendations were glowing, the Detroit hospital hired her immediately. A young woman of deep faith, she took this a sign from heaven and moved into her parents’ home on Cherrylawn Avenue on the city’s westside. She promised Frank that it wasn’t the end of their relationship. They could write, she said, and visit each other.  If by the time he graduated, if their love for one another remained steadfast, they could marry and she would move to Pittsburgh.

a father’s friendship

John Luger, Peggy’s dad, enjoyed his new position. He especially found the

Drafting tools
Photo by Lucas Kepner

men he worked with easy-going and cooperative. One of the younger men, who was also named John, he took a particular shine to because that co-worker produced such meticulous work and offered to help others with snags.  Yet, he never pushed himself forward. “Luger,” as the guys at work called him like this tall, well-built, blonde kid’s humble attitude.  He decided to invite him home to meet his family.

“D.J.” as the other John was known, readily accepted.  Because Mrs. Luger (another Peggy) like to impress visitors, she set the table with fine linens and her best china. D.J., used to eating in his family’s farm kitchen, worried he’d use the wrong utensil for something, but more than the setting made him nervous. Luger’s daughter sat across the table from him. Her animated conversation about her patients at the hospital mesmerized him as did her soft, curly light brown hair and huge deep-blue eyes.

enter the rival
1930s soda fountain
https://blog.retroplanet.com/

At work the next day, he asked Luger would it be all right if he asked Peggy to go out for some ice-cream the following Sunday.  The older man thought about the doctor back in Pittsburgh, but didn’t mention him. Instead, he gave D. J. their phone number. When she got the call, Peggy thought about Frank.  He wouldn’t be able to come to Detroit for three more weeks and lately his letters contained fewer and fewer expressions of affection.  It couldn’t hurt to just have ice-cream with another guy.

For the next six months, Peggy held her conscience at bay as she enjoyed the company and the attention of both young men.  D. J. had learned about Frank from her dad, but since she wore no engagement ring, he put faith in being “the bird in the hand.”  But, whenever Frank did come, he stayed in the family home and his dynamism and his plans for his future made it clear that he was the suitor that could offer Peggy the more secure and comfortable life.

love creates a quandary
Leaves, floating in water, form heart
Photo by Roman Kraft

With no real end to the Depression in sight, making a good financial choice couldn’t be just shoved aside.  Besides Peggy really liked Frank.  Mrs. Luger also like Frank and wanted her daughter to marry him, not just because he would be a doctor but because he was Catholic. D.J. had been brought up Presbyterian. Mrs. Luger didn’t hold by “mixed-marriages.”  They always caused trouble she said.  Love wasn’t enough to see a couple through deep religious differences.

Couple walking hand in hand
Photo by Eugenivy

Her mother’s words penetrated her soul, but weren’t proof against the growing chemistry she felt whenever she spent time with D.J. When he laced his strong fingers through hers as the walked in the park, as he traced a finger down her cheek, and when she couldn’t help lay her head on his shoulders at the movies, she felt an electric fissure of pleasure.  When Frank kissed her good-bye before leaving for Pittsburgh every other week, she sensed a solid warmth and security, but there was no zing to it.

She could imagine life without Frank. She tried to picture what it would be like if D.J. dropped out of her life.  No, that wasn’t a possibility she could entertain.

Thus, began the chain of events that led to my conception and that of my siblings – and consequently, any potential children of Peggy Luger and Frank O’Connell were relegated to oblivion.

“if you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.”

Johnny Depp

Did you ever have to choose between two loves?  How did you make it work?

Learning to Love Unconditionally

Couple looking over horizon
From one generation to the next
Grandmother in kitchen w grandson
Photo by CDC

Almost from our first meeting, my husband Jay and I recognized each other as steadfast, loyal people who held deep affection for family members and friends.  We both enjoyed sharing stories with one another about our families. We could not help but admire the authentic fondness we each felt toward our parents, our siblings, and the many members of our extended families. One of our favorite ways to spend time then and now is to reminiscence about our grandparents.

Our grandparents had helped to mold the persons we had become. We treasured them individually. Yet, we didn’t realize how fortunate we were that between us, we had six living grandparents, all of whom attended our wedding. They had just always been there for us. So, it seemed perfectly natural that they should share this important moment.  I regret that neither we nor anyone else took a photo of all six of them together that day.  We do, however, love the various shots of all of them joyfully celebrating the marriage of their oldest grandchildren.

a legacy of great worth
Couple grasping arms
Photo by Elahe Motamed

Now, a grandmother myself, I fondly reflect upon the hours and days I spent with my grandparents as I grew up. I realize now that our grandparents’ lives taught Jay and me the very traits that drew us together – steadfast loyalty and devoted affection. When Jay and I lost our grandparents to death, they left no monetary inheritance, but the legacy they left us was far richer than any financial gain. They left their stamp on our character.

The deep affection we received from our grandparents, we quite naturally pass along to our grandchildren.  Through sharing their stories in my writing, I also hope to leave a legacy not only for our grandchildren but also for their children. I want them to know how greatly they were loved even before they existed.

leaving an old world for a new one
Cattle Ranch
Photo by Lukas Gachter

In planning my blog post for the next year, I chose as a theme, “Leave a Legacy.” I begin today with one of my favorite memories of my Grandmother Wilhelmina DeJager. I know only the vaguest outlines of my Grandma Minnie’s life before she became my grandmother. What I do know is fascinating enough to make me wish I could uncover more. As a teenager, she migrated from The Netherlands with her parents and siblings to Alberta, Canada, in the early 20th century. They left behind city life in Amsterdam to settle on a cattle ranch.  It sounds so much like the “Little House on the Prairie” stories that fairly breaks my heart that the story of those days is nowhere recorded.

Minnie met my grandfather, Ted, also a Dutch immigrant, when he was working on building the trans-Canadian railroad. They fell so deeply in love that when Ted migrated to the Detroit, Michigan, and wrote to ask her to come and marry him, she did. Imagine trusting love that much!

a twentieth century dutch homemaker
Braided rug
Photo by Viktor Fopgacs

Only twenty years old when she gave birth to my father John, Minnie had every skill needed to be an accomplished homemaker and mother. She could sew clothes for her whole family. The braided rugs for the floors, the curtains on the windows, and all the bed linens were also her creations.

Grandma planted a garden. At the beginning of every winter, she canned fruits and vegetables to last until spring. When I was a child, she canned enough for our family as well. And, of course, she cooked. I loved sitting in her kitchen and dreamed of having one that would look just like it someday because the white cabinets with red trim entranced me and the smells of stews and roasts made my mouth water.

a favored grandchild

Patterns for little girls' dresses in the 1950sAbove and beyond all else, Grandma Minnie loved me unconditionally. She had only had sons and thrilled to the fact that her first grandchild was a girl.  She’d been waiting twenty-five years to make like girl clothes! The lovely thing was since she was a grandmother, there was no subtle rule that kept her from making me her favorite. Those restrictions apply to parents, but grandparents needn’t abide by them. Thus, many times during the year I had the chance to skip out on my role of “mother’s helper” in my family of five siblings and become the “one and only” pet child of my grandmother.

These opportunities would usually begin following Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ home. Instead of going home with my parents, brothers and sisters, I would stay at Grandma’s house until the next Sunday. Those weeks were truly magical. My grandmother never gave me chores to do. Although she kept busy all day long with gardening, cooking and sewing, I was free to either tag along and chat or I could entertain myself however I chose.  Both alternatives were heavenly.

a magically ordinary household
Bright kitchen
Photo by Douglas Bagg

I loved watching her feet pumping the wheel on the sewing machine and marveled at the garments that arose from under the needles. My imagination took me back in time when she covered my head with a sunbonnet and gave me a basket to hold strawberries from the garden.  She didn’t mind at all if I became bored and dug for worms instead. If she was canning, I stood on a kitchen chair right at the stove – something my mother never allowed.

Carpentry shop
Photo by Adam Patterson

My grandfather had an enormous workshop in their garage.  Despite working all day as a ship builder, he still loved crafting with his tools once he was home. For me, he created a dollhouse with four rooms of furniture. He also built a child-size hutch to house my doll dishes and doll clothes.  I had a full wardrobe of clothes for my two favorite dolls because every time my grandmother made an outfit for me, she would make identical ones for my dolls.  Grandpa also crafted a dolls’ bunk bed for them for which my grandmother made mattresses, pillows, sheets, blankets, and quilts.

total belonging
Furnished dollhouse
Photo by Krysztof Kowalik

Often, I would wander away from my grandmother’s activity to curl up on her cushy sofa to read a book.  Sometimes, I’d turn her whole living room into a stage for my paper dolls. At home, my play was relegated to a basement playroom.  Children were not allowed in the living room. Most weekdays, at five-thirty, I’d walk to the end of their block to wait for the city bus that brought my grandfather home from work. Neither of my grandparents drove a car. Then, as we headed home, he’d tell me stories about the ships he was building. How I wish I could have written those stories down! At home, he strode into the kitchen and encircled Grandma’s waist and kissed the back of her neck.  She always said, “Oh, go on with you, Ted. Mind the child.” He would turn to me and wink.

On Sunday morning, although my grandmother was a staunch Presbyterian, she would walk me to St. Peter’s Catholic church several blocks away to attend Mass. My father had converted to Catholicism when he married my mother.  A stipulation of allowing my grandmother to have me at her home was that she promised to take me to Mass on Sunday.  My grandfather would pick me up when services were over. As a child, I often sought solitude and actually loved being able to attend church all on my own.

being loved for being you

I have no memories of anxiously awaiting my family at dinner time.  Mostly I felt sad that I was leaving my grandmother.  These visits stretched out from the time I was five until I was thirteen. Even when I was little, I suffered pangs of guilt at being so happy to be away from home and felt bad that I got my grandparents all to myself so often.  But the joy I experienced in my grandmother’s home more than compensated for any remorse I felt over my lack of homesickness.

Not for one moment of my childhood did I doubt that I was the light of my grandmother’s life. As sure I was of this truth, I realized that she loved my siblings and my cousins very deeply as well.  It didn’t diminish our relationship in the least.  At home my parents tried to be even-handed in their treatment of five very different children. I didn’t feel cherished as “Jule,” someone unique. My parents, I felt, most valued me as the oldest, the one who could help.

John and Jule at Latrouelle FallsMy grandmother’s unconditional love had no strings attached. I did not have to earn it. Experiencing such love taught be to be openly affectionate without fear. This is a trait my husband recognized early and treasures still.

“Grandparents hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.”

Please share a favorite memory of your grandparents?

 

The Light Returns and We Are Glad

Northern Lights in Norway
My Favorite Day of the Year
Christmas tree in Scandinavia
Photo by Samuel Bryngelsson

Today is Winter Solstice. The winter solstice is the moment in the year when Earth is tilted as far away from the sun as it will be all year. For the northern half of the planet, the winter solstice results in the shortest day of the year, meaning it has the longest period of darkness.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved this day, loved the whole idea that the light that slowly seeped away from us over the last six months is about to return.  The darkness cannot overtake us. I rejoice to know that I, along with millions of other earthly creatures, am tilting back toward the sun. At the same time, I delight in the grand array of artificial light my own species threads throughout the habitats of humanity. These cheerful beacons do not deny the darkness. Rather they proclaim that we recognize the allure of sparking light against velvet darkness. This magic combination lifts spirits and call us to make merry. Every couple must, I claimed at the beginning of this series of posts, grasp every possible reason to celebrate that comes their way.  This time of year is one of the best.

Introducing Jul
Norwegian town in winter
Photo by Vidar Nordi Mathisen

I have an odd but intent affinity for the season. My name, Jule, is an Anglicized version of the Norwegian word for Christmas, “Jul.” In Nordic tradition “Jul” stretches out for weeks. In pre-Christian times, it began around what would be for us today, mid-December and lasted until mid-January.  The time period was a month called “Ylir.” It was associated with the god, Odin. One of his many names is Jólnir which comes from the word Jól. In those ancient days, Odin traveled around Midearth more than usual visiting the locals. The children will fill socks with hay for his horse Sleipnir, and Odin might give them a small gift in return.

julenisse
Photo by j pellegen

Even today Santa Claus is not the most common Christmas icon in Norway. That honour goes to julenisse. A creation from Scandinavian folklore, a nisse (tomte in Sweden) is a short creature with a long white beard and a red hat. Julenisse means the gift-bearing nisse at Christmas time.

The real yule log

You may be more familiar with another Anglicized version of “Jul,” which is Yule. This pronunciation most likely came about because the letter “J” in Norwegian and Swedish sounds more like the English “Y” than the English “J.”  This means that while all my life the sound of my name has been identical to the word, “Jewel,” it would be more properly pronounced “Yoo-laa.” But I’ll save the whole story of how I came to be named one name and called another for another day.

The total abandonment to merriment that is the focus of the “Jul” entrances

Extra large burning log
Photo by elijah Hiett

me. There are so very many ways these people of the far north have of pushing back against the dark and the cold it can be breath taking just to read about them. We’ve all heard of the Yule Log.  For many of us, it’s a kind log-shaped cake, one of many mouth-watering sweets in which we indulge at this time of year.

The cake, however, takes its name from a very special Norse ritual. Their tradition calls for a whole tree (not just a log!) to be brought into the home to burn for the entire 12 days of Christmas. I feel all soft and fuzzy inside writing about that single tree giving Yule-Log Cakeits whole life to bring light and warmth to a family in the midst of the frigid darkness. Humans could do well to emulate the tree. Just in case you don’t have a whole tree to burn, here’s a recipe for the cake.

now that’s a party!

Those hearty Nordic folk are not, however, spending their time curled up on cozy sofas staring into the fire. No way.  They are off celebrating at multiple julebord. I have to admit – it’s super cool to share a name with such a spectacular tradition. These communal gatherings serve up trays ladened with traditional food. The most common popular dish Christmas Eve dish is ribbe,

Pork belly roast
Photo by Sebastian Coman

or seasoned pork belly. It’s usually served with sauerkraut and redcurrant sauce. Christmas sausages, cranberry sauce, and fried apple slices with honey are other common accompaniments. Here’s one that might not sound wonderful to you, but 70% of Norwegians feast on pinnekjøtt sometime over the  season. Pinnekjøtt, which translates literally into English as ‘stick meat.’ is dried and salted sheep ribs. https://www.lifeinnorway.net/christmas-food/

Clinking beer glasses
Photo by Yutacar

Usually guests and hosts consume large amounts of alcohol and then head out to a late-night party. With true festive fervor, every company, school, sports club and social group hosts their own julebord. Over the season, one most Norwegians attend two or more of these events. So, it’s no wonder that after the somewhat quieter family celebration of Julaften (Christmas Eve), the day when Norwegians exchange gifts, Norwegians welcome romjul.

time in between times

Romjul is their name for the period between Christmas and New Year’s. It roughly translates to mean a time when no one knows what to do. I can totally relate to that. If any of you have ever been at work, as I have in the past, during this particular week, you probably know what the Scandinavians mean.  Doldrums set in at work.  By Christmas, we’ve wrapped up most big project.  There’s not enough time to launch a new venture. Everyone’s still a little hung over from all that Christmas cheer while gearing up to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

And that’s just at work. At home the Christmas bubble deflates as the letdown of no more gifts sets in for the kids and diet regret takes over the adults. No one wants to watch their favorite Christmas movies any more. Going out to play is a major process of gearing up and doesn’t last for long. Yes, I have to go along with the Norwegians.  That week deserves its own name and romjul sounds just right.

year end for julewardwrites

When it comes to this blog, I think it’s only fair to let you know, I’ll be observing romjul and giving you a break from reading it for a week.  See you in 2021. Until then – –

Gingerbread house cake
Photo by Bruna Branco

God Jul! & Godt nytt år

What’s your favorite Holiday tradition?  I’d love to hear!

 

Home Alone

Couple alone in a dark room
a tree for two
Couple building snowman
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Home Alone is the theme of Christmas, 2020. Most of us face this wise choice face with deep sadness. We’re also pretty angry although we may not know where to direct our anger. For some, like my husband Jay and I, being “alone” for Christmas means not absolute solitude, but attempting to celebrate the holiday as a couple without any gathering of family. We haven’t had to do this since our honeymoon. At that time, being alone was delicious, a retreat from world of family and friends, from school and work, a quiet time to just let it sink in that we were married.

yearning for much more
Couple and their tree
Photo by S&B Vonlan

Trying to recapture that same sense of delightful togetherness is much harder this year because after that first Christmas, we always celebrated with large groups of extended family members. Once we became parents, our children were the focus of every year’s celebration. This tradition continued even after they grew up. All four children came home for Christmas every year until our grandchildren were born. After that we took turns gathering at our children’s homes for Christmas. All of us even traveled to Argentina in 2006 when our third daughter and her family lived in South America for the year.

seeking solace and wisdom
Couple holding hands
Photo by Nani Chavez

We have been fortunate. We know that. Still, we are filled with angst and pain as we confront the Christmas without the family. We try to cheer each other up, but haven’t been having a lot of success. So, when the Gottman Institute Blog’s post, “How to Support Your Partner When You’re Hurting Too,” by Donald Cole, landed in my email box it felt like a godsend.

As I read Dr. Cole’s advice, I could see ways Jay and I could avail ourselves of his wisdom to get through this hard time. I could see there parallels to my own themes of intentional marriage.

intentional listening magic

He begins with “Set aside time to listen to each other.” Jay and I are pretty religious about this already.  As busy as we might get with separate projects during the day, we put them aside at six o’clock to sit and have a drink together. During the challenge of this season, this may be a time to use that quiet hour to remember past holidays and bring up happy memories, or even just share how hard it’s going to be this year.

no one is a mind reader
Couple in deep conversation
Photo by Joanna Nix

Ask for what you need,” Dr. Cole cautions. I feel he’s looking right at me. Jay has always depended on me to be the “gift-giver” of the family, and often depends on our adult children to purchase the gifts for Christmas for me. If we’re going to be alone this year, clearly it’s up to me to specify what gift I’d like and help him know where to purchase it – the hard part will be to do this graciously.

Being just the two of us for several different celebrations is bound to up the stress level on both of us. So, I can see that it will be important for us to set aside a regular time for tough conversations – something we both might be more inclined to avoid because “after all it’s the holidays.”

acknowledge stress and tension

Practice stress reducing conversation,” he continues. This is listening and sharing, not about relationship difficulties, but about those things outside the partnership that are causing stress. The difference struck me as very important. The response, Dr. Cole suggests, “What’s the worst part of this for you?” really resonated for me.

But at times when you are both hurting, it’s also important, he insists to “repair the damage” inflicted on the relationship. All couples hurt each other. If we realize that, we can be courageous enough to tell our partner when they hurt us and big enough to hear this and try to change.

most of the time – make merry
Blazing fire in fireplace
Photo by Hayden Scott

Two of Dr. Cole’s maxims go together for me, “Engage in non-demand affection,” and “Make time for good things between you.” Jay and I are ordinarily a pretty affectionate couple.  Yet, without the hugs and kisses of the children and grandchildren and the warmth that just radiates through the room when the whole family gathers in one place, we need to ramp up on the hugs, kisses and cuddles at home – and maybe roll back the rug, turn on some music and slow dance.

Just before Christmas our wedding anniversary pops up. On the occasion of our first anniversary, we were both still in school and had minimum wage jobs. Our financial obligations far outweighed our income, but we went ahead and splurged anyway. We went out to dinner at Fanny’s, an Italian restaurant.

Italian restaurant
Photo by Svend Nielsen

The check was $10 for two, which was as much as we usually spent on groceries in a week.  That anniversary set a precedent. Every anniversary since then we have gone out to fancier and fancier restaurants. For most of those years we coupled the dinner with tickets to the theater.

Faced with the quandary of how to make our anniversary a “good time” this year, we know we cannot go out to dinner.  But I feel the “good times” are greatly diminished if I have to cook. We will have to be very intentional about choosing a take-out or delivery that feels celebratory enough. We’re pondering as well what might be a great movie to watch? The best music to listen to? Of course, we’ll have a fire in the fireplace.

If you, kind readers, have any suggestions I am open to all ideas.

 

Seasonal Ambiguity

Snowy December Night
advent dilemma
Advent Wreath
Photo by Grant Whitty

In my heart of hearts, if I could wish away the season of Advent, I would.  I have never been able to “make it work.” Within my faith tradition, Christianity, Advent is one of the holiest seasons of the year. During the month before Christmas, our church calls us to fast and pray, to give alms and burn candles as we await the coming of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Although Jesus came into human history over 2,000 years ago, every year on the date, designated to celebrated his birth, Christians all over the world prepare to welcome him into their lives once again.

So, why would I vanquish such a sacred time? Because I live in a time and place where my culture overwhelms the spiritual meaning of the season with rampant worldly festivities, ones that lift me up and carry me through the dark, cold days of winter. Sadly, although most of this merrymaking has a tentative connection to the Nativity of Jesus, it has lost its solemn mode of quiet reflective waiting. And in truth, I don’t want to go back. As guilty as it makes me feel, I revel in our modern Christmas celebrations.

believe in santa claus

Toy department Marshall Field's

When I was a child, guilt about secular tradition never bothered me at all. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself, that the remorse set in and dogged my footsteps, taking little nibbles out of my joy, as I followed the traditions of my culture. Early in December, my husband Jay and I trekked through the snow-filled alleys of our Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to the Fullerton “L” stop with all four children in tow. We rode the train to Randolph Avenue, getting off right in the basement of Marshall Field’s Department Store. We squeezed into a crowded elevator with other families and sped up to the sixth floor, a veritable children’s paradise, a square block of toys for sale.

The line to see Santa Claus usually stretched all the way back to the elevators themselves. My job, whether I cared to take it or not, was to hold a place in that slowly inching river of people. Jay had the equally challenging task of weaving with the children through the various display aisles as they concocted Christmas wish lists. Finally, it would be their turn to march up to “Santa” and sit on his (or one year her) lap and recite this list while a bored young photographer captured the less than memorable moment.

fine dining with kids!
Tree in Walnut Room
Photo by Claudio Schwarz

Next, we paraded up the escalator to the eighth floor so that we could admire the gigantic tree that stood in the center of the store’s premier restaurant, the Walnut Room, a carpeted, paneled space, reminiscent of the Victorian era.    The height of the tree always loomed far over our heads, and each year it had a different theme. By now almost exhausted and very hungry, we happily took our reserved place in the restaurant.  This experience tended to be a bit on the stressful side because fine dining and multiple children under the age of ten don’t make for a good mix.

Ringing the Salvation Army bellThe day’s rituals were not, however, quite complete.  After lunch, we joined the throng outside Field’s, sometimes in absolutely frigid weather, to circle around the store and admire that year’s Christmas windows, which most often depicted a favorite children’s story. Always, the children loved this part of the day best.  Before descending to the subway station, we performed the only authentically Advent action of the day, we each dropped several coins in the bucket of the Salvation Army bell ringer. When the children were older, we all volunteered bell ringers ourselves.

choosing the perfect tree

Christmas tree in a Victorian House

Most families have their specific ways of doing a Christmas tree. Jay had grown up with a flocked one.  To me that wasn’t quite authentic, but we weren’t die-hard enough to drive out to the country to cut down our own tree.  Rather we had our favorite close by our house, where all six of us milled around the lot, each choosing a different tree and then the negotiations began. Once we brought it home, of course, everyone agreed that we found the perfect tree.  Then the rest of us got out of the way while Jay with much under his breath cussing put up the lights.

There was one bad year. The kids had moved out of the house for college or residential living. I decided that we had decorated long enough with the ornaments that the children had made in preschool. I boxed these up and got rid of them. Then I proceeded to decorate the tree in shiny new ornaments. When the kids came home for Christmas, there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. As far as they were concerned, I might as well have given away the family cat.

what does christmas truly mean?
Holy Family with Mary nursing and Joseph sleeping
Photo from Birmingham Museums Trust

If all this sounds to you like delightful, if exhausting celebration of annual traditions, your response is natural.  Why then did every step of the way drive virtual, yet painful, stones into my soul? There was always some part of me, that famous Catholic guilt, that chided me that I shouldn’t be giving into these materialistic rituals.  Why, I would ask myself, couldn’t I focus my children’s attention more explicitly on the religious meaning of the season.

Clip art nativity scene

We did attend Mass each Sunday, but that was no more than we did the rest of the year. I always put out an Advent Wreath, but we didn’t always remember to light the candles. Somehow writing dozens of Christmas cards seemed more important. On Christmas Eve, when the children were in grade school, they took part in the enactment of the birth of Jesus, usually as an angel or shepherd.  None of them ever quite made it to Mary or Joseph.  But our family, like many other families, gathered at the Christmas Eve afternoon Mass because Christmas morning would be completely given over to discovering what “Santa” had left under the tree – always more than there “should” have been.

let it go
Lit-up JOY
Photo by Tai Captures

Finally, however, as I matured and the children grew, I let go of my guilt and brought a sense of humor to the season. Humor is not only a necessary ingredient of any successful committed partnership, it is a great asset for all of family life. Sure this season gets a little out of control at times, a lot over the top, but at the same time, it can be so much fun! When I can take a more relaxed approach to this “happiest time of the year,” it has a better chance of fulfilling its promise.

How do you balance the sacred and the secular aspect of the winter holidays?

“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” – Dave Barry

Surviving the Holidays

Dog in a gift box
pulling it all together
Cupcakes and candy
Photo by Brooke Lark

The holiday season is a time of abundance, a time of more of everything. And one of the things there tends to be more of around our household at this time of year is conflict. This is not a new experience, but one that descended upon us the first time we set out to celebrate a major holiday together. It took us completely by surprise.

Familiar as we were with the biblical verse, “And the two shall become one flesh’ so then they are no longer two, but one flesh,” its full meaning didn’t reveal itself until the Easter Sunday just three months after we married.

who is the family?
Gathering before dinner
Photo by Antenna

For both of us, holidays were first and foremost about spending the day with our family and secondarily about the actual feast that the day commemorated. But in our first year of marriage, the meaning of the words, “our family,” became confused. Who were “our family?” What John Gottman has named the “we-ness of us,” meaning the solidarity of husband and wife, was still so new that neither of us considered our married partnership a “family” per se. My husband and I were both the eldest children in large families. Although we never voiced it aloud, we assumed that a couple without children wasn’t a family.

A couple of idiosyncrasies in our family backgrounds also left us unprepared for a holiday battle.  Jay’s family had simply always celebrated holidays and every occasion of note with his mother’s family.  No questions asked. His father’s family history stayed shrouded in mystery. During my own childhood, my extended family was small enough that we all gathered, my mother’s and my father’s family, together for not only holidays but vacations as well.

reasonable versus fair
Couple holding tightly and tensely
Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk

Then that Easter rolled around and a decision had to be made, one neither of us had ever faced before. With which family would we spend the day? Jay assumed we would do the “reasonable” thing and join his family at his grandparents’ home, which was only a half hour from our apartment on the northside of Chicago.   I maintained that we saw plenty of his family in any given week. It was only “fair” I declared that we drive to St. Paul to spend Easter with my family.  When the lines are drawn between “reasonable” and “fair,” even Supreme Court Justices have their hands full. The decision process overwhelmed two young people in their early twenties.

at odds and out of kilter
Hands letting go
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Conflict between committed partners is inevitable.  As true as I know those words to be, whenever I find myself at odds with my husband, life feels out of kilter. Thus, when a rancorous debate drove Jay and I apart for days and seemed to have no possible solutions, it convinced me I had married the wrong man.

Experts tell us that it isn’t fighting that drives couples apart, but the nature of their arguments. That early clash followed none of the experts’ rules. We were so shocked to be enraged with one another, words of contempt and distrust flew threw the air like knives in a circus act. And just as miraculously none of them resulted in a fatal wound. What won the day finally were tears. I broke down sobbing about how much I missed my parents and siblings even though before our fight I hadn’t been conscious of that longing. That won Jay’s heart.

healing as we journey

Toast a feastOur trip through Wisconsin affected a sweet healing.  The countryside was bursting with new life in the happiest of yellow-greens. Roadside stands sold daffodils by the dozens. It rained much of the way, but just past Eau Claire, a rainbow broke through the clouds.  By that time, our seven-hour conversation had led us to our own pot of gold.  We had worked out a way to alternate with whom we would spend our future holidays.

Jay and I not only resolved that conflict, but more profoundly we learned that we could engage in even deeply rancorous disagreements, but our solidarity was stronger than we had known and would see us through such troubled times. Since that time, this stalwart sense of “we-ness” has gotten us through hazards much difficult to negotiate than that first major confrontation.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. While loving someone deeply, gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Have the holidays raised a conflict for your family?  How did you find your way through?

Most Unexpected of All Things

Tender moment - elder couple
Life’s Revolution

Leon Trotsky is best known as vital leading figure in the Red victory in the Russian Civil War.  One would think that the outcome of that tumultuous time would strike him as the most unforeseen event of his lifetime. Yet, he actually claimed, “Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.”

He was so right. We dream so many dreams when we are young, even dreams

Protestors amid fire
Photo by Hasan Almasi

of a grand revolution, but we never dream of becoming old. So, we are flabbergasted when we realize it has befallen us. In some ways, of course, it is a blessing in disguise. We cannot help but acknowledge that the only real alternative is considerably less appealing.

love beyond the grave

Being an elder is on my mind this week, both because yesterday was my father’s birthday and the anniversary of his death and because I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv. Berg’s protagonist Arthur, an endearing widower, reminded me strongly of my dad. Both men recalled wives, who were challenging companions, with great fondness and kindness, a kindness that extended beyond death. Arthur goes daily to have lunch at his wife’s grave. My father gave up his lake cabin because it was too lonely without my mother. Both men invariably spoke well of their departed spouse.

Death did not sever the bond of marriage between Arthur and his wife Nola anymore than it did that between my parents, John and Peg. The relationship pattern that had kept their commitment strong through thick and thin continued. Their partner’s physical presence perished, but their spirit remained within the heart of the husbands they left behind.

fond memories

And those husbands continued to treat the wife of their memories with tender kindness. They didn’t do this by sanctifying them.  They could still admit to the flaws and idiosyncrasies of the women with whom they had spent more than sixty years. But they never spoke of them with disrespect or contempt.

As I read The Story of Arthur Trulove, memories of other elder couples I’ve loved flooded my heart and soul. I could see again my grandfather sneaking me sips of his rich, milky coffee and my grandmother scolding him, “Now you know, Ted, that baby doesn’t need coffee.”

“Ah, Minnie,” he’d reply. “It’s more mile and sugar than coffee.  It’ll put roses in her cheeks.” My grandmother would sigh and I could feel the electricity that sparkled in the smile they exchanged.

Sixty-year romance

When Nola in the book is in her last illness, I remembered my Uncle Jim and his wife Betty. Theirs was a relationship I witnessed from beginning to end because when I was ten, my grandmother set me up to chaperone my young uncle when he borrowed the family car for a ride with his girlfriend. I thought Betty with her dark page boy and luminous brown eyes was as glamorous as a movie star.  They probably could have dumped me at a soda fountain for all I cared.  But they didn’t.

Sixty years later, my uncle suffered a debilitating stroke. My aunt, devastated that he was too heavy for her to care for, allowed him to move to an excellent assisted living center. I was sometimes lucky enough to accompany her on her daily visits to the facility. Every afternoon she joined him for lunch and a one-sided conversation until he fell asleep.

When he died, she buried his ashes in their church garden so that he would be

Church garden
Photo by Samala Sarawathi

right there where she could visit every Sunday. Uncle Jimmy loved that church. It was such a great kindness on her part to bring him to rest where his favorite hymns would waft over him every week.

expect love

Newlywed couples receive the admonition, “Be kind to each other; treat each other with civility even in discord.” If as an elder couple, Jay and I live by that same maxim, we can hope that although we might not have anticipated being old, we did expect to be well-loved and in that we were not disappointed.

 

Have you read any books that sparked memories for you lately?

It Takes a Clan

Jay having dinner with Terrence's family
staying home is harder than ever

“Please stay home” I hear this plea every time my husband turns on the television. The same desperate words jump out at me the minute I click my computer power button. The warning comes because the desire to leave home overwhelms me, and most of you, more at this time of year than at any other. But this year we must not give into this yearning.

This is the month that our culture has set aside for thanksgiving. It ends with a day we usually gather to feast, but all through the weeks leading up to that day, we focus our hearts and thoughts on gratitude.  We give more than the ordinary amount of time and energy to naming and reflecting upon those things for which we are grateful.

no family is an island

 

Kristy and JohnnyBy the time Jay and I had been married not quite a dozen years, we were caring for two children with perplexing, challenging special needs. I am convinced that these experiences drew us closer together rather than pushing us apart because we didn’t have to cope with those challenges totally on our own. Answers to why Kristy and Johnny suffered the disabilities they did never appeared.  But, throughout their lives, there were “answering people” who empowered us to be the best possible parents who could be for them.

This month of Thanksgiving I dedicate my blog to them.

This is the time of the clan gatherings. We don’t call them that anymore.  But those with whom we spend our holidays, those with whom we celebrate the gifts of life, whether blood related or not, are our “clan.”

thank heaven for brothers and sisters

Just as we need families, the family needs a “clan,” a network of support beyond the walls of their immediate abode. These are the people who will be there for them when their own resources, material, psychological, emotional, or spiritual run low.  And it is to these same persons, we turn when we want to celebrate because they are the ones that best understand what it took to get to a place where festivity is the order of the day.

Jay and I are both the oldest children in our sibling group. While that may not have always seemed like a blessing when we were growing up, our brothers and sisters are first among those for whom I give thanks this November.

the last shall be first

My youngest sister, Beth, had the most direct impact on Kristy and Johnny’s well being. From the time she was thirteen through the years she was in college, she came to spend summers with our family. In Beth, my children had a “big sister” extra-ordinaire. She fully engaged in every moment of family life. When she was with us, our family had two “mothers.” What made her sojourn so valuable was that by living with us, she became completely comfortable with caring for two children with a seizure disorder. Her competency and confidence meant that we gained the freedom to spend time alone together, doing things that were actually fun, like going to the movies. She put some “ordinary” back into our inordinate lives.

 

She enabled Jay and me to continue to grow stronger, not just as parents, but as a committed couple. Without Beth’s presence we might have lost track of each other completely.  Because she was there for us, we are still “us.” Thank you, Beth.

Would love to hear what about your siblings makes you grateful.

Worthy of Honor and Respect

Couple in the rain
an election day anniversary
Droping vote in box
Photo by Element5 Digital

Only one more day until November 3, 2020, Election Day in the United States of America. It also happens to be the fifth-ninth anniversary of the day Jay and I met. Such a unique twist of fate brought us together that we celebrate the anniversary of that evening every year. One of the commemorations I remember best was the anniversary we spent campaigning. In 1966, November 3 fell five days before the first election of our married life.

Before my marriage, politics held a place at the edge of my peripheral vision. But marrying into an active, political Chicago family sharpened my understanding of the local democratic process.

worthy of honor and respect
Couple holding hadns
Nathan Dumlao

My blog post for September 7 this year, “New Year, New Beginnings” announced my intention to share with you some principles I believe helped sustain our fifty year plus relationship. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/new-year-new-beginnings.

Near the top of the list I placed recognizing a partner’s expertise in some areas and accepting their lead in those domains.  This premise resembles one of the principles found in John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, often cited as the definitive guide to developing a relationship’s full potential.

In his work, Dr. Gottman observed that admiration, the belief that one’s partner is worthy of honor and respect, is crucial for a committed relationship. Jay and I can’t help but notice each other’s flaws. (And living together 24/7 since the pandemic has only acerbated this.)  Keeping in touch with what we admire about each other stops us from being driven to distraction by our individual  idiosyncrasies. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-much-do-you-admire-and-respect-your-partner/

politics, our everyday fare
City of Chicago
Photo by Pedro Lastra

Jay never ran for political office himself.  His passionate engagement in the political life of our community,however, became part of the rhythm of our daily life as soon as we returned from our honeymoon. He involved himself at the most basic level as a Democrat precinct captain.  The City of Chicago is divided into fifty legislative districts or wards. Each district is represented by an alderman who is elected  to serve a four- year term. Each ward is divided into as many as forty-four precincts. And that, according to my husband, was where the real politics took place.

His work in the precincts was a far cry from our college discussions. Those, while fascinating since Jay majored in Political Science, were highly theoretical.  Politics at the neighborhood level, I discovered, was a whole different animal. I watched as Jay went out every night to knock on doors in an effort to speak with every potential voter in his precinct and it swelled my heart with pride.

He worked hard all day, processing dozens of cases as a State’s Attorney in Traffic Court, came home, ate a quick supper and headed out. I could have felt abandoned.  We were, after all, close to being newlyweds. The emotions, however, that filled my soul were admiration and respect. Jay said his precinct work was a necessary link in the democratic process. I chose to believe him rather than listen to the grumbles I heard at work about the cronyism of the Chicago Democratic party.

politics in his dna

Jay’s participation in the Chicago political scene also had another dimension. His father, John F. Ward, Sr., was the purchasing agent for the City of Chicago.  He had been appointed to that position in 1948 by a reform mayor, Martin Kennelly.  When Richard J. Daley was elected, Jay’s dad assumed he’d be asked to step down.  Daley surprised him by asking him to stay, saying that Mr. Ward was known for his honesty and professionalism.  Daley wanted that to be a part of his own administration. Because of his father’s position, Jay had sat in at lunch with the leaders of the city, county and state Democratic parties since he had been a young teen. What he learned from those sessions, he kept to himself. I honored him  for that.

campaigning as celebration
Bridges of Chicag
Photo by Alex Livingston

It was no surprise, therefore, that when the fifth anniversary of the day we met came around, we found ourselves not going out to dinner and a movie, but passing out campaign leaflets. Although the Democrats felt their usual security about the city and county offices, there was enormous concern about the Senate race. Paul Douglas had held the seat for eighteen years.  A prominent member of the Liberal Party, he was a great friend of most of the prominent Chicago politicians. For Jay and me, he was more than that.  He was a passionate crusader for civil rights and had helped pass the Civil Rights Act just two years before. But he was in a tight race with a prominent Republican businessman, Charles Percy.

Union Station
Photo by Danielle Rice

Our position for passing out the pamphlets was the Washington Avenue bridge that spanned the Chicago River just west of the Loop. Commuters streamed over this bridge on their way to Union Station as they headed to homes in the south, west, northwest, and north suburbs of the city.  There were thousands of them. The timing was perfect.  If they held onto our reading material, they could study it on the train. We were bundled into several layers so we could withstand the long hours on the bridge. The temperature did not drop below freezing until after dark, but the sun set at five-thirty. We remained at our posts until the last stragglers from the Loop offices scurried to catch the final trains around seven-thirty.

fondness and admiration: a system
Couple under umbrella
Photo by Clay Banks

My feet felt frozen to the bridge, but my heart was warm with pride. For four hours, I had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my husband and collaborated with him. Together we had attempted to make a difference in the way our nation would be governed.  Jay would always be more invested in politics than I would be.  Sometimes his active lobbying took him from home for days at a time. My admiration for his dedication assuaged the annoyance I felt at being left to run the household on my own.

On his side of the coin, he often assured me that his confidence in my ability to care for our family  on my own when necessary served as a ground for him to do the work he loved. Most likely this is putting what Dr. Gottman calls “a positive spin on our marriage history.”  But that’s actually a good thing, a true test of a couple’s “fondness and admiration system” and a good predictor for future happiness.

evaluate your admiration system
Kissing couple
Photo by Scott Webb

Kyle Benson, who works in the “Love Lab” at the Gottman institute loves doing something similar to what I do in the Relationship Guides on this website. (https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples.) Benson takes the research on successful relationships and transforms them into practical tools for romantic partners.  If you would like to try one of them, try his brief quiz designed to evaluate the fondness and admiration system in your own relationship. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-much-do-you-admire-and-respect-your-partner/

If you take the test, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

“America’s higher purpose is not just to allow you to have what you want, or to allow me to have what I want. Our higher purpose is to give everyone a fair shot at making their dreams come true.’
Couple sharing coffee
Photo by Christine Hume