This past weekend, I traveled to my hometown of Harlan, Ky, to spend some time with my family. My parents have lived in the same house for nearly 50 years, and they have finally decided that it’s too much house. They spend winters in Florida, anyway, so why not make the move?

They have put the old house on the market, and my brother and I were collecting what stuff we may want to take to our own homes. After having not lived there since my high school years, and returning only yearly as of late, it was really a trip down memory lane.

We took a drive out to the Harlan country club, to view the remains of the clubhouse that recently burned to the ground. As we walked around the grounds of the charred remains and the long-neglected swimming pool, memories washed through my head.

Many, many days of my childhood were spent here, learning to swim, then to dive, usually belly-first, off the diving board. Laying on the hot concrete swathed in baby oil and iodine, prematurely aging my skin while wishing for larger breasts and a boyfriend. Our mothers were golfers, so the best babysitter in town was the lifeguard.

Charging lunches consisting of Mrs. Williams’ ‘minnow cheese, sweet tea and a Hershey bar, my friends and I were left to our own devices for most of the day, no worries about any more harm coming to us than a skinned knee or bad sunburn.

Thursday night was family night at the club, and the lot of us would band together and ride the golf carts around the famously mountainous golf course, scarring each other on the rickety old swinging bridges. After- dark card games kept us occupied while our parents put away copious amounts of liquor, illegal in Harlan County until 2011.

Most of those people have long-since left the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, and my only association of long-ago friends is now through Facebook. I doubt that I will return to Harlan when mom and dad leave for the last time this Fall. Seeing the country club in it’s state of ruin seemed to close a door for me. Saying goodbye isn’t easy. I’ll keep the memories burned in my brain of a carefree childhood and far away friends.

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RIP

Yesterday I was taken by surprise-shocked, really-when a friend called to let me know that a friend and neighbor of ours had been killed in a tragic accident.

Let me preface this by saying that this person that died wasn’t what I would consider a “close” friend, not someone I would call on the phone to chat or enjoy family-style dinner with, but a friend that always greeted me with a warm hug and a kiss, and genuinely showed interest in how and what I was doing.

I’ll call him John, because that was his name.

John was a central figure in our Atlanta neighborhood. He and his wife were the first people HK and I met when we moved here 15 years ago. They encouraged us to get involved in neighborhood activities, of which there are plenty, and his was always a welcoming face in the crowd.

John’s generosity was phenomenal. He volunteered countless hours for events here and in the community. We regularly passed him and his wife, who often walked hand in hand, in our neighborhood park, on their way to or from feeding the ducks.

I have not been able to erase his smiling face from my mind since I heard the news, not that I want to, anyway, but the thought of not seeing that smile, feeling that warmth, greatly and deeply saddens me. As with probably everyone that knew him, I can’t believe he’s gone. It wasn’t his time. It wasn’t our time to lose such a selfless man. I’m sure he knows that he took a little piece of our hearts with him when he left this world.

The fact that no one, and especially his wife, got the opportunity to say goodbye to him is a real gut-punch. And a reminder to me to let those that I care about know that they are special. Tell loved ones that you love them. More importantly, SHOW them that you love them. You never know when it may be too late.

With love,

Jules

It's 50 time!

My favorite show is back on for the summer. Have you seen “Men of a Certain Age?” It’s about 3 men facing midlife and the everyday life crises, both good and bad. If you haven’t watched it, give it a try.

Anyway, recently,  a very good friend of ours celebrated his 50th birthday at his and his partner’s beach house on the Florida Panhandle. They invited about 30 of their closest friends, and organized all kinds of special events, including a beach bonfire and a catered shrimp boil with dancing, a day of beach olympics, and more…

In looking around at these people, all hovering around the mid-late 40’s to late 50’s, it struck me how youthful “midlife” has become.  It seems that life has not worn away the physical or mental facilities as it once seemed to.  I remember seeing my friends’ parents whenI was a kid and considering them fossils.  My own parents, on the other hand, were way cooler, Mom in her long blonde fall (clip on hair) and mini dress, Dad in his Nehru shirt and glue-on mustache.

Although I am now a card-carrying member of AARP (and carry their group health insurance for all us old farts), and have, unashameadly, nodded my head when asked if I get the Senior Discount at the grocery store on Wednesdays, I consider myself a far cry from “Old”.

Hearing aides? Got ’em! NOT because I’m losing my hearing in Old Age, but because my brother had a rock band that practiced  in our rec room next to my bedroom, and I’ve been partially deaf since high school. Besides, my “little helpers” are neon green (the green meanies) and I consider myself a trend-setter with them.

But I digress. Back to the birthday weekend. I look around at this group of physically fit, perfectly groomed, emotionally stable guys and girls, and it is obvious that life is what we  make it, we’re as young (or old) as we feel, yadda yadda yadda.

"Sarong 40's"

So as I helped  my friend say “Sarong 40’s, Hello, 50’s” –yes, sarongs were mandatory for all on the last night– I was struck by how young we are in our middle years, and how numbers just don’t seem to mean that much anymore.  Samuel Ullman once said  “Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.  Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”

I love this quote! Love It! And I, for one, among many of you, I suspect, refuse to let a calendar dictate how I feel, act, or think. In fact, 50, for me, marked a rebirth of enthusiasm for life, for living, for enjoying what is yet to come.  What are your thoughts on aging? Will you allow time to kick your ass, or will you kick back?

Shhhhhhhhh....

HK’s not happy with me. After I post this, I’m sure he won’t be speaking to me. But wait…he doesn’t even read my blog, so, he’ll never know, right? OK, Shhhhhh…..

Saturday night, we had our regular DAAM night at the home of our friends Jenny and Rick. DAAM is an acronym for Dinner And A Movie, and we’ve been doing it not for a couple of years.

Here’s how it works…  We agree on a date (Saturday night), come up w/ a movie well in advance (usually a choice of several, popular vote wins), then Jen assigns one course per party.  We have a dedicated group of 8 (4 couples) that participate, and we have all become really good friends.  We didn’t know one of the couples, and knew the other 2 pretty well through neighborhood stuff, but not on one-on-one interactions.

This week’s movie was Tootsie. That’s the movie from 1982 where Dustin Hoffman is a struggling actor unable to get hired due to his rep of being “difficult”. If you haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t seen it in a while, go rent it.  It also stars Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman and Bill Murry, along w/ lots of other familiar faces.

So, I had the main course (NY style pizza), Jen served champagne, Al and Sue brought NY Cheesecake. We always prepare food based on the “theme” of the movie.

The day of the party, I explained to HK that the protocol was cross-dressing, (since that is what Dustin Hoffman had to do to get the gig).  I helped him pick out a suitable skirt and top of mine, along w/ my “Foxy Cleopatra” wig and some big glasses. He really wasn’t too enthused about the whole dressing up part, but the group had previously talked it up.  I looked cute wearing one of his shirts along w/ jeans and a cute hat. Off we drove to our DAAM night.

We walked in to greet everybody and…for fuck’s sake— NOBODY else dressed the part. Nope, HK is none too happy with me.

Me and Tootsie

Proctor's Hall

Our Sewanee reunion is now past, and I realize that I haven’t written anything since returning. Part of that has to do with the fact that since quitting his job, HK and I have been consumed with future plans,  including covering our health insurance needs and figuring out what to do with our houses.  Ok, that’s a great excuse. In all honesty, it’s bullshit.

Anyway, the real reason I haven’t written anything is because my head has been swimming with thoughts and emotions after having come home and reflected on the events of our 4 days together on the mountain after so so many years. I’ve tried to describe it to my husband (who did not attend–most spouses didn’t), but his eyes just glaze over and his mind drifts to far away places. Having not been to boarding school, isolated on top of a foggy mountain, I imagine that it would be impossible for him to grasp the experience.

Tracy and I drove into the campground on a cold, foggy Thursday morning. It was a typical Sewanee day, as Sewanee means “fog” in some Indian language.  After checking in the campground staff and the adorable 21 year-old Drew (who quickly became our adopted son), we were greeted by the ever-smiling, long and lanky Stretch. OMG! I hadn’t seen the boy since 1977, but there he was in all his glory, even cuter than I remembered. Instant warmth, and more so as we proceeded to tap the keg (gotta be an ale-cheap beer makes me lose weight says Stretch) and got a bonfire going.

Green's View

It wasn’t long before others began dribbling in, and by that first night, we had a dozen old friends doing what we did so many years ago, drinking beer around a fire.

The next day brought a dozen more, and the mountain was full of giddy school kids in aging bodies.  While I didn’t know a few of the women who had left Sewanee before I got there my junior year, I was amused to hear their introduction. “Hey, I’m Beth, I got booted in ’75”, “Well, I got booted the next semester…” and so on. To identify so fully with peers that for one reason or another were there, and then they weren’t, felt very natural and un- forced. “We’re like family” was something I heard several times that weekend.

One day was spent hiking our old haunts around the mountains that had been home. Albeit our asses were wider and knees stiffer, we all had a blast climbing up and around Proctor’s Hall and other landmarks that made these mountains home. I had to laugh as we passed the bottles of wine as groups of students would come hiking by. I imagined them thinking,  “just who are these fossils and why are they here?”

In a (rare) moment of introspection, I paused to take a look around the campsite. Here was a group of people who had continued to flourish and grow for 30 or more years after leaving our shared histories at Sewanee. One of the friends that I made at the reunion was a Bill, a guy from my class that I never, for one reason or another, really got to know.  He reminded me of something that was said by a faculty advisor during commencement…

” I recall that during our commencement ceremony, Max Cornelius instructed us to look at the people sitting next to us and realize that we would never be sitting with these people in just this way ever again. He was telling us to be in the moment.”  Bill’s reaction at the time was the same as mine- “fuck it- i’m outta here!”

But then, sitting around that fire, I relished the fact that we had each refused to let life get in the way and had made the collective effort to be together once again.

For days (weeks, even) following our reunion, many attendees expressed how badly they realized they missed each other. A few people started a post to start a community living situation together. Maybe it was the afterglow of love and togetherness talking. Maybe not. I do know that when we were together, many of us felt that in some way, we had come “home”. I did. And I plan to revisit my family more often.

This morning, laying in bed after the alarm went off for the 3rd time (my ritual–3rd time’s charm), I reached out to pat each of my 3 dogs that share the bed with HK and me. Yes, that’s right, all 3 sleep with us.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anyway, today all of us- HK, Kismet, Roxie and Chance, head to Western Ky. to visit his family for the Thanksgiving holiday. Wow! I can’t believe it’s already the holiday season.

Propped on my pillow, a pup under each hand and Chance, the baby, curled on my chest, I reflected on those things that give me happiness, all that I have to be thankful for.

First of all, I am happy to be above ground, alive and healthy. As each year comes to an end, more of the people I care about face illness, unemployment, depression, divorce or worse. This has been a good year for me, a very good year, and for that, I am thankful.

I also reflected on my continued reunions-via facebook, telephone, emails or best of all, face to face, with people from my past. Here I will spare you the sermon, if you choose to read about my facebook experiences, go to my fb category and just keep scrolling down–plenty of fodder there.

This year I have tried new things, some outside of my comfort zone. I started going to bootcamp, written (still editing) a children’s book, taken chances and gotten out of my own way. For those things, too, I am thankful.

It’s not until you express your thanks for what you have that you can welcome more abundance. The “attitude of gratitude” shows us that when you say things like “I am happy that I have the time to do things that are important to me,”  instead of  “god, I am sooooo bored,”  your life outlook will be brighter and in turn, you will manifest more positive energy.

It becomes easy, if you dwell on negativism, to manifest negative energy around yourself, and it projects itself onto those around you. Even if you are facing hard times, find something, one thing, to be grateful for and say thanks. Go ahead. Try it.  I promise you’ll feel better.

Some people keep a gratitude journal, where they note all of the things that they are grateful for. Others have an object (rock, token, etc) that they meditate their thanks with. Personally, I say my thanks aloud (although sometimes very quietly-under my breath), and at that moment, I am aware of the positive energy, the qi, in my spirit.

What are you thankful for this year?  How do you show thanks?  I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, and may you give thanks every day!

Hiking in the Lofoten Islands

“Julie, do you remember Beverly Barlow?” My Mom asked when she called to wish me Bon Voyage on my upcoming trip to Norway. It was more of a statement than a question. “Mary George’s niece, from Louisville. Remember her?”

The name was familiar, and I vaguely recollected a freckle-faced red head kid from many years ago.

“Yeah, I remember. She was my age and we used to play at the country club swimming pool when she came to visit.”

“That’s her. Well, guess what?  She lives in Norway!  You should visit her!”

Just that simple. I was leaving on my trip in three days. Not being a traveler herself, Mom obviously didn’t realize how meticulously I had worked on the perfect itinerary.  I discounted the idea initially. Upon continued reflection, though, I admit I was a tad intrigued.

Jeff and I had been planning a 2-week vacation in Norway for several months, and I had perfected our itinerary down to the latest bus schedules. Our plan was to have the “greenest” possible trip, using only public transportation, hostels and small, local lodgings when possible.

Since turning fifty last year, I‘ve had a self-revelation of sorts. There’s something about hitting the half-century mark that has encouraged me to reflect on life and the paths I chose to take. More than ever, I have been thinking about my past and long-lost relationships. My introduction to facebook has offered possibilities to rekindle old friendships as well as make some new ones.

Since Mom knew nothing more than Beverly’s married name and the city she lived in, I “faced” her, just out of curiosity.  Despite the decades, I immediately recognized the bronze-headed beauty that popped onto the screen.  Hmmmm….

Why not? I sent her a message. “Hey, Bev, you probably don’t remember me but…” yadda yadda yadda…

Within minutes, she “friended” me and sent me her response.  “I may not remember to put on matching earrings, or what I ate for breakfast, but I remembered you as soon as I saw your name in my in-box.”

After a few more messages, we figured out that she lived a good six hours from my northern-most stop in the Lofoten Islands, a good bit north of the Arctic Circle. Since my schedule was already set, circumscribed by non-refundable tickets and reservations, (Norway is billed as the most expensive travel destination in the world), we agreed that while it would be fun to hook-up, it may not be feasible logistically. We agreed to confer via email once I arrived in Norway though, and see if either of us could figure something out.

After examining our self-prescribed itinerary, Jeff and I agreed to combine two days of hiking and sightseeing into one, freeing up our last day in the Lofoten Islands.  After several back and forth emails and ample opportunities to opt-out, we agreed to meet up at the halfway point. Jeff and I rented a car and drove three hours north to Harstad, Norway. Bev took a ferry south.

Hiking above Geirangerfjord, Norway

“So, how long has it been since you’ve seen each other,” Jeff asked on the drive.

“Well, I think it’s been about forty years. We were around ten years old is my best guess.”

“Were you good friends?”

“More like ‘amicable acquaintances’, I’d say”

“What are you going to talk about?” Jeff, like a lot of guys, doesn’t see the point in meeting up with someone without an agenda.

“I really don’t know. Whatever comes up, I guess.” Now he’s making me question my motives. Am I crazy? Is this going to be awkward? I sit in silence much of the ride, second-guessing my motives.

As she stepped off the ferry, I immediately spotted her long auburn locks and easy smile. That’s her, no doubt about it. Running up to her, we hugged, then sat at a nearby café table with Jeff and chatted a bit before deciding where to have lunch. She already had a restaurant suggestion that she had researched. Ah! My kind of girl–a pre-planner.

Lingering over lunch at a lovely café just steps away from the water, time flew by. Fluent in Norwegian, she ordered us a beer and helped decipher the menu. We talked nonstop, not about our past (since there aren’t many memories), but of where our lives have taken us.

“I’ve lived in Norway for eight years,” Beverly explained. “My soon-to-be ex husband’s parents were Norwegian, so there are family ties. Even after separating, I’ve decided to stay. I can’t imagine leaving this place.” (I don’t blame her, Norway is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen.)

All of the taboo subjects were on-limits, including politics, religion, and the shared teenage/young adult experiences that go along with coming of age. Our experiences are remarkably similar, our philosophies and beliefs on par with one another’s. We laughed in near amazement, but not surprise, that we have many of the same general mantras and aspirations of writing books. We both agreed that after turning fifty last year, we are becoming more comfortable in our own skin.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ferry. I regretted having to leave so soon, there was so much more I wanted to learn and share with Bev.

We hugged each other goodbye, but in reality, this was a hello hug. A welcome to my life, friend, hug.

Bev and me with Willy and the Boyz