Heading Home

It started with the realization that my kids’ spring break aligned with my second son’s lacrosse game schedule. We could travel to Ohio for two Saturday games – and even a mid-week one, if we wanted – and spend the rest of the week visiting friends and family nearby.

Using the frequent flier miles and hotel points my husband has accrued through his travel-dependent job, we could enjoy a low-cost, multi-city trip away from home.

However, at some point I realized that “home” was at every stop along the way.

At my son’s college, it’s clear that after a somewhat bumpy year, he is finally acclimated and determined to stay for the duration. His younger brother, following a night in the dorm, seems surprised – and a bit awed: “Everyone knows him, and everyone respects him! His friends say he’s already a legend.”

I know that when my son stays in our house this summer, he will miss his new home.

food carts nycWhen we arrive in NYC, where I lived from ages 21 to 31, I take a deep breath and think, “I’m home.”

My New York home is full of yellow taxis, blaring car horns, crowded, stinky subways, thick accents, food carts, chewy bagels, brusque shopkeepers and honest, straightforward people. Strangers who strike up conversations on the #1 train. A deli owner who complains that his son is slacking on the job. Street performers who pull onlookers into the act.

Home in New York is friends who leave work early and take busses and trains to meet me for a drink. Friends from my first journalism job, my long-surviving book club, my summer rental in Connecticut. Friends who literally watched me grow up, stood beside me all the while and still offer love and support.

A few days later, as we drive to my hometown from O’Hare Airport, I think, “No, this is home.” The familiar yellow-brick bungalows. Super Dawg’s French fries. Dunkin’ Donuts.

My childhood house has belonged to other families for 30 years. My mother’s apartment still does not feel like home. My brother’s house – which once belonged to a high school friend – is a bit more comfortable, but still isn’t home.

Evanston has changed significantly over the years. The Central Street Baskin and Robbins shop, where I learned to scoop ice cream and count change, disappeared long ago. So did Herdrich’s, the Fotomat, Mr. Meyer’s shoe store and Uncle Ed’s grocery.

The Prudential bank, where I established my first account and procured my first set of dishes, is now a Starbucks.Field's clock

Marshall Field’s, where we purchased special clothes that weren’t available in the Sears Catalog, was converted to condos, a restaurant and small shops years ago. Betty’s of Winnetka, where we searched for Cotillion and Prom dresses, is gone.

I walk around as a stranger in a strange land. I don’t bump into people I know. I’m not familiar with most of the restaurants and stores.

And then, my niece leads me to Bennison’s bakery, where I used to buy chocolate donuts and smiley-face cookies on the way to the YMCA for swim team, gymnastics and Y-club meetings.

The donuts and cookies taste the same. The Y still stands.

Early one morning, my oldest and dearest friend – who I met when we were babies – joins me at the hotel for breakfast. Talking with Ann is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. They fit just right. They’re comfortable. They know where you’re headed and where you’ve been.

The waiter appears at our table, and smiles in recognition. He’s the same server that has brought my family orange juice during at least 15 annual visits. His warm smile feel like home.

The following day, another wonderful old friend drives in from Chicago for breakfast. As always, we speak openly and honestly about our joys and challenges, our dreams and disappointments. My daughter, fresh out of bed, stops by our table. “Did you know I met your mom when I was your age?” Chris asks Pea. Again, home.

rocks skylineThat afternoon, several family members – both Evanston- and Seattle-based – walk to the lakefront. After an excruciatingly long, cold, snowy winter, the sun has finally made an appearance. Northwestern students cavort in shorts and T-shirts. Birds chir and squirrels scramble for food.

Chicago’s impressive skyline emerges in the south.

We stop at the large rocks that line the coast. The same rocks I had played on as a child, waiting for a turn on the sailboat. The rocks where my friends and I congregated as teens, where I sat with boyfriends and then, years later, watched my own children play.

Some of the rocks bear graffiti affirming couples, announcing feelings, marking occasions. They have been painted and repainted over the years, and yet, still tell the stories of many decades, of the passage of time.

It is then, and there, that I realize my home is not just located in one city; my home is where I feel strong memories and the love of forever friends and family.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 14 April 2014
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Family Time Out: A Gap Year – Part II

Family life rarely affords the time and money it takes for meaningful down time. Yet, we know the importance of family time outs whether it is for a day, a week or a whole year. Read part two about how the Sharples family of seven gave themselves permission to step out of the fast lane and take a family gap year to travel around the world.

Once you decide to put your life on hold and travel the world for a year, it feels like you could go anywhere… But in reality, the world is a REALLY big place, and a year is only 365 days. In addition, we had to factor in the kids’ educations, and how their curriculum would fit with the overall itinerary and flow of the trip. A gap year is not considered a vacation, and indeed, we do not perceive our journey as a vacation. Rather, it is an opportunity to live abroad in multiple cultures and geographies, experiencing and connecting with the world together as a family, while also moving forward education and career.Sharples family

The original concept for our gap year was to select four locations that we would live in for three months each. Colored by our extraordinary experience living in an apartment in the old quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam for several months in 2009 when we adopted our twins, Tuck and Jones, we thought it would be great to absorb a smaller set of destinations and live as dedicated tourists, if not locals. It seemed good on paper, but once we started horse-trading on a minuscule four locations, and looked at all the enticing, exotic destinations that surrounded each of them, we realized we were going to have to broaden the list.

We landed, at least at this point, on 14 countries, averaging about a month in most of the countries, with the shortest stay being a little over a week (Portugal) to the longest stay lasting two months (Bali). Several factors went into the decision process such as: each family member was given a say in their number one choice; there were mandated sacred cows (Oia, Greece and Ubud, Bali); we all wanted to return to our family’s other “home” cultures of China and Vietnam; countries we had visited in the past also went into the mix. Sequencing, optimizing for weather and finding the best times to visit given the chosen places helped the rubrik’s cube fall into place. You can view the itinerary as it stands today here.lichtenstein

As for the curriculum and education for the kids, I could go on and on. Each grade level is different. For our eldest son Wescott, missing sophomore year of high school is a pretty big deal, so ensuring that he not only continues with his subjects, but also gets the proper credit, is essential. We chose the University of Nebraska’s virtual high school program because of its reputation, course alignment with Mercer Island High School, and a track record of MIHS taking the credits so he will have a graded transcript. For our middle school kids Yve (seventh grade) and Otto (sixth grade), the school recommended following the math curriculum with the textbooks as really the only required work. English would be more than covered by our family blog posts, of which everyone in the family has their day of the week to publish, a family requirement of writing a book over the course of the year that will be published on Amazon’s digital Kindle platform upon return to the United States, and our family book club, where we read selected titles together and then discuss over a meal. World history and science are also more than covered, as we take experiential learning to a whole new level! For our two would-be first graders, homeschooling from the five if us seems to be sufficing!sharples restaurant

As I write this, we are two and a half months into our adventure, and it’s simply amazing. We’re well into our European tour, a week away from hopping over to Africa. We’ve learned to cook a mean ravioli and perfectly stuffed grape leaves together, surfed in Greece and Spain, met several European entrepreneurs, painted graffiti with a Spanish urban street artist, seen heart-stopping architecture, enjoyed the sublime Mediterranean and connected with some amazing people so far. We invite you to come along on our blog – ProjectEquator: A Family Gap Year – where all of us give our own take on the experiences, sites and places we travel to.

Cliff Sharples

November 21, 2013   permissionslips1@gmail.com

Project Equator: A Family Gap Year – Part I

As a pre-Thanksgiving special we share the story of a family traveling around the world with their five school-age children. We often joke about “living the dream” in reference to some of the more mundane aspects of life such as scrubbing the floors or waiting in a parking lot for soccer practice to end. Cliff and Lisa Sharples are living the real dream. Here is Cliff’s account of their family adventure. The ultimate permission slip.

One wintery day in 2012 at Crystal Mountain, WA, while the kids searched for powder, Lisa and I found ourselves more inspired by hot toddies than cold moguls; beckoned with a warm embrace of the upstairs base lodge bar. It had been a long week, a long month and a long year of stressful work, too much business travel and an endless calendar of games, events and to-dos for all of us. Reminding ourselves of the catch-phrase mantra “be a problem solver, not a problem alerter” we embarked on a decidedly MBAish exercise of writing our Family Mission Statement and Core Values. Both of us are serial entrepreneurs and hopeless MBAs who innately write mission statements, corporate core values and business plans as often as grocery lists. So, why not do that for our most important venture – our family?Sharples family

When we met, Lisa and I just knew our children would be waiting for us in unexpected places. Through the miracle of childbirth, the magic of international adoption and travels across the globe, all five of them found us; forming our unconventional family. As we listed values and beliefs we felt important to imbue in our children, a theme of connection began to emerge: connection with each other; connection with family and friends; connection to community and environment; connection with new ways of learning; connection with the world.

The more we talked, the more we realized that rather than remodeling our circa-1961 vintage kitchen, maybe it was time to invest in our family venture and explore the theme of connection as a family. Realizing that our window of opportunity to have a shared experience with all of our kids, with our oldest son half way through his freshman year in high school, we decided that it was now or never to embark on a project we’d dreamt about for many years. Ever the disrupters, we decided to embark on a global adventure – a gap year for the family, if you will.

After that cozy afternoon, and many hot toddies, life changed pretty dramatically for us. Like any startup, this venture had innumerable tasks and parallel strategies to execute to ultimately be viable. We had to creatively navigate our careers and achieve budget targets. The kids needed a plan for school so they could each drop back into the requisite grade upon our return. We needed a plan for our house, three dogs and two parakeets. An itinerary needed to be agreed upon, and then planned out. Reservations of many types needed to be completed. Medical and dental appointments had to be lined up, including 50 shots between us to inoculate us from the world’s ills… the list went on and on! barcelona

On September 9, 2013, exhausted from an amazingly wonderful and crazy 18 months of planning, saving and scheming, the seven of us boarded a plane for Europe. Now in the heart of Seville, Spain, it’s hard to believe we are almost two and a half months into our adventure. In my next post, I’ll tell you about where we’re headed and how it’s going!

Permission Slips will post part two on Thursday.

Cliff Sharples 

November 18, 2013 permissionslips1@gmail.com

Zigging and Zagging through Life

As my second son prepares to leave for college this week, I feel happy that he will pursue his dreams and goals at the school of his choice, and I know that on many levels, he’s more than ready to leave the nest.

He has done his best to soil that nest over the past few months.

However, I’m also filled with final-hour words of wisdom he won’t stop to hear, and the fear that 18 years of values, morals and role-modeling haven’t left their mark.

photoCAMXJ4D9You see, a few days ago, I moved my oldest son out of an apartment near the university where, exactly two years ago, we installed him with feelings of anticipation, pride and excitement.

Let’s just say that although he loved the school, made great friends and grew in wonderful ways, overall it was a failed experiment, filled with a mixture of heartache, disappointments, missteps and unexpected drama. He is now transitioning in a new city, where he will get a fresh start at a different university.

So, forgive me for being a little jaded on the “it’s so exciting to head off to college” thing.

Like most kids, I was taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That we should take the quickest route home from school, a friend’s house or work. That Cliff Notes (I know, they’re called Spark Notes now) can help us get through novels faster, flash cards will prepare us for graduate-school exams, the right attitude, outfits and long hours might help us advance at work, and a two-week, guided tour of Europe will show us all the highlights we need for our photo albums.

Unfortunately, most of our parents, teachers and bosses didn’t tell us to take our time, to enjoy diversions and to smell roses along the way.

On an intellectual level, I know that the zigs and zags and bumps in my older son’s journey have made him a stronger, more grounded and better-balanced individual. The fact that he has suffered some setbacks doesn’t mean that he is a failure.

I need to remind him that Thomas Edison made something like 1,000 attempts in his route to inventing the light bulb. When a journalist asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

My kids should know that they can take as many steps as they need to find success and happiness on their own terms.

I hope they understand that when we’re in too much of a hurry to get from point A to point B, when we believe the road should be straight and flat, we miss a lot of lovely details, excitement and learning opportunities.

“Life is never a straight line, it is full of twists and turns,” writes Warren T. VanderVen (I have no idea who that is, but I like the quote). “The way to lead a happy life is not to avoid them but to embrace them; to find the happiness in them.”

And so, I shouldn’t worry about #2 son when I leave him at school next weekend.

He’ll probably love the school he chose, but then again, he may find it too small and stifling.

It’s possible he’ll chose a major he’s excited about, take stimulating classes with interesting professors, and find a job in that field. Or, he may graduate, have no clue what to do next and move back home for a few years.

He could form a close bond with his roommates, but also, they might clash over music, noise, cleanliness and overnight visitors.

He may fall in love with a classmate, experience the thrill of young love in a college setting and end up spending his life with her. However, it’s more likely that he will experience ups and downs in several relationships, and suffer a broken heart or two.

The point is, if his journey is less than straight and trouble-free, it’s okay. He will learn from his mistakes and snags and bumps and hurts.

After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

My hope is that both of my college-age boys – as well as my younger kids — will realize that the unexpected turns, the distractions and the diversions could be as important as their perceived, immediate goals.

I hope they’ll give themselves permission to embrace the zigs and zags and bumps in the road as part of life’s amazing journey.

Linda Williams Rorem, 19 Aug. 2013
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Choosing Cousins

The clues hinting to the location of the next “Eight and Up” trip are streaming in, so my kids are getting excited about the annual trip with their paternal grandparents and cousins, all of whom they adore.

I’m so happy my children have cousins they can relate to, in our town, in my hometown and in Albuquerque. When I was young, I believed that cousins my age would make my life complete.

patty_duke_cousinsIn fact, I was always a bit envious of the “two” girls on “The Patty Duke Show” re-runs (“still, they’re cousins, identical cousins…”) and neighbors who had close relatives. It seemed so fun.

My father’s half-brother was 15 years his senior, so his three daughters are quite a bit older than my siblings and me.

My mother’s younger brother married almost 15 years after she did, when I was in second grade, so didn’t provide sons in time to help my cause.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful stand-in, Ann, who was handed to me when my family landed in the Chicago area on the eve of my kindergarten debut.

Unlike Patty Duke and Cathy, my friend Ann and I look nothing alike, and, in truth, don’t have many interests in common. Still, we’re “cousins,” and share a history and closeness that would rival any relative’s.

Our families met in Boston, where my mom – in addition to mothering six children ages eight and under – worked as a church organist, and Ann’s father, Dick, was the choir director. Our parents became fast friends, and we often gathered after church for coffee and donuts.

Ann’s oldest brother was a perfect match for my second oldest, and her other brother is the same age as my oldest sister. So, times together were full of laughter and adventure.

Later, when both families ended up in the Chicago area, without other relatives close by, we became family, and for several decades, spent every holiday together, from Christmas, through Easter and July 4, to Labor Day.

My father passed away in 1982, after taking ill during an evening spent with Ann’s parents, and her father died of cancer 10 years later. Needless to say, both families were in full attendance at both memorial services, and we all shared in both losses.

My mother and Ann’s remain best friends to this day. For some 20 years, they spent every Wednesday together at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, working as docents. Several years ago, they moved to the Chicago Historical Society.

Ann and I could walk to each other’s homes at an early age, and often did. We joined the YMCA swim team and middle-school club together, attempted ballet classes, shared babysitting clients, rode our bikes to the beach and took the bus downtown for frozen cokes and hot dogs. Ann saved her gum wrappers for my gum-wrapper chain.

During high school, we participated in the same youth group, but slowly grew apart. Our families still gathered on holidays, but we didn’t share much one-on-one time otherwise.

In the long run, those years were of little consequence. When we were juniors in college, Ann set off for Spain and I to France, and, aside from visiting each other’s new locales, we traveled through Italy during an extended school break. We experienced Carnevale in Venice and the ruins in Rome, and never stopped laughing. We still haven’t shared all of our stories with our mothers, but the memories keep us smiling whenever we get together.

Ann_Rosewall_003When Ann got engaged, she asked me to serve as her maid of honor. When it was my turn, I was honored to have Ann perform the ceremony (she was then “just” an ordained minister; she now has a Ph.D in divinity). Friends across the country still recall her moving, heart-felt homily.

I traveled to Texas to see Ann’s baby girl, and was able to simultaneously show off the girth that contained my first son. When my husband was ill, Ann flew to Seattle to spend a week supporting me and my three young boys.

We still get together, most years, on the Fourth of July.

Today, on Ann’s birthday, I celebrate her, real cousins and the cousins that we claim as our own. They definitely enrich our lives. Ann, I’m looking forward to dinner on Friday night. (Oh, and a very happy 70th birthday to my teen idol, Bobby Sherman, too!)

Linda Williams Rorem, 22 July 2013

Slow-Motion Re-Entry

Few adults would argue the benefits of taking vacations, but whether you’re taking a break from a hectic job or running off with your family, the preparations can be grueling.

Beforehand, it’s a race against the clock to check-off pre-trip duties in time: confirming reservations, paying bills, returning emails, canceling newspapers, filling prescriptions, washing and folding clothes, arranging pet care, straightening the house, making packing lists and fitting necessities into suitcases.

We find solace, in those harried days or hours before departure, knowing that a true break lies ahead.

photo-2Returning home is a different story. We’re exhausted from travel, the teens are bristling from too much “family time,” our suitcases brim with dirty clothes, a mountain of mail awaits and, most likely, a strong smell of past-date food fills the fridge.

We are overwhelmed, and feel our bodies start to tense up again.

Late last night, when we returned from the airport after 10 days away, I was determined to slow-down the re-entry process, and to try to maintain the vacation calm.

The teenage boys rushed out, and I lifted their curfews for the night. I didn’t even wait up for them.

Friends of my kids had left a welcome-home cake on our front porch. Despite the late hour, I allowed my daughter to dig in.

My email inbox stretched on for pages, and I decided to attack it later. (Of course, modern technology allowed me to deal with any critical messages while out of town.)

I knew the bread was growing mold, the yogurts were past-date and the milk had soured, and vowed to deal with it later.

My husband, daughter and I emptied our suitcases, and I decided to let the piles of laundry sit.

I didn’t open the Sunday newspapers, turn on the TV or play the answering-machine messages.

Instead, I took a tip from Scarlett O’Hara, and said to myself, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” I washed up, climbed into bed, and allowed myself time to reflect on the trip:

For most of 10 days, my teenage boys got along, and even smiled occasionally. (I have photo documentation!)

We sampled new foods, went to museums and experienced cultures different from ours.

We walked, together, in the bright sunshine, absorbing sights and much-needed vitamin D.

The kids gave their thumbs a rest from constant texting. They read books and talked to each other…and even to their parents.

My husband “un-plugged” from work, and didn’t once mention issues with clients.

For more than a week, I didn’t get behind the wheel, didn’t rush a child to a lesson or practice, didn’t scurry to the grocery store for milk, cereal or bread.

I didn’t cook, clean or do laundry.photo-1

While on vacation, I didn’t remind anyone to put dishes in the dishwasher, pick up dirty towels, turn down music or turn off lights.

I went to sleep every night knowing where my children were, who they were with and what they were doing.

This morning, I still sense the quiet and calm. The kids will sleep in. My husband will soon rise and head back to the airport, but hopefully with lower blood pressure than usual.

The cat is purring on my daughter’s bed, relishing in her warm body and rhythmic breathing.  The dogs are resting at the Tails-a-Waggin’ pet hotel, where I will fetch them later today.

For now, I will spend time on Facebook, enjoying photos of friends’ July 4 adventures. I will load my own photos into the computer, and look at them over and over. I will make another cup of decaf, and sip it slowly.

I give myself permission to slow down the re-entry process, and make my vacation last just a little longer. And, maybe, I can take some of the lessons learned, and apply them to “real life” here. 

– Linda Williams Rorem, 8 July 2013

The Terminal

Memories of the summer vacations of my youth tend to run toward a hazy recollection of freedom, sticky otter pops and endless possibilities. As an adult I am always excited to recapture that feeling each summer during our family vacation. However, I have a little more sense of urgency now knowing that time is finite and precious. Thus any delay in the long-awaited summer break can be a great source of angst.

Construction roadblocks encountered during family car travel makes me ponder 50 uses for orange traffic cones as projectiles. Flight delays that negate a day of sight-seeing inspire me to compose snarky letters to the CEOs of airline companies.

At least in a car you have the illusion of control in the situation. You can take an alternate route, build in an ice cream stop or extend the sing-a-long. When stuck at an airport you are bound by the “point of no return,” the ominous looking May-not-return-beyond-this-point signs.

In the 2004 movie, The Terminal, Tom Hanks portrays a man named Viktor who is trapped in a New York City airport for nearly a year. The movie was inspired by the real life situation of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who resided in the departure lounge of Terminal One in Charles de Gaulle Airport for nearly 17 years. Currently, “NSA leaker,” Edward Snowden is rumored to be in limbo at a Moscow airport. While both men had political problems, not summer vacation snafus, it does make one pick up the pace when traveling through an airport.

A few days ago my sister was to visit me but became stuck in the Oakland, CA airport for a day after her flight was cancelled due to “mechanical problems.” She wandered the airport to kill time. She contemplated the art, browsed the limited selection of stores and purchased a meal. She still had a long wait ahead.OAK airport

Susan finally found a cavernous corner between terminals one and two and sat down. Shortly after situating herself she noticed a fellow passenger having a very animated conversation on a cell phone. The woman on the phone alternated advice with gesticulations and loud proclamations of “Praise Jesus.”

best terminal waiting areaSusan couldn’t help but listen to the conversation as they were the only two people in the echo-chamber terminal area. When the woman hung up she looked at Susan with a sigh and exclaimed, “Those veggies in my sandwich hit the spot, they’re just what I needed.” The lady, Victoria, was a talker. She and Susan were about to become terminal friends.

Victoria called herself a late bloomer. She had some hard knocks along the way in life. She was shot by her ex-husband while pregnant with a child; she had been on food stamps and lived in a tough neighborhood. However, she was blessed with a positive outlook on life and knew how to make the best out of a bad situation. With limited resources Victoria would make homemade ices out of powdered Kool-Aid and crushed ice cubes. She made her own donuts out of biscuit dough. She held coloring contests for the neighborhood kids and found something special to say about each child’s art.

Her house was the one that her daughter’s friends always wanted to go to after school. She truly was the Kool-Aid mom and very proud of that. Now she had grandkids and even though she is better off she told Susan, “I still like to do some of the cheap things with them to teach them you don’t have to have money to be happy.”escalators oak terminal

At the end of the conversation, Victoria said to Susan, “I wanna give you a hug.” The women embraced and Victoria parted with a twinkle in her eye and said, “I like making people feel good.”  When I picked up Susan at the airport that night she was upbeat, not in the least bit irritated. She had spent some quality time with Victoria and probably had one of the best starts to a travel day ever.

Carol Lewis Gullstad July 1, 2013


Flowers – and Permission Slips – for a Virtual Friend

Years before Carol and I dreamed of starting a blog, a colleague got me hooked on “French Word-A-Day,” which is a thrice-weekly blog written by an American woman who married a Frenchman who owns and runs a vineyard in Provence.

Like thousands of other readers, I quickly felt connected to the blog’s author, Kristin Espinasse, and her vignettes about life as an expatriate trying to master French language and customs.

She and I have a bit in common: We both studied French in college, spent junior year abroad and fell in love with French culture. Now married to hyper-driven men, we are both trying to work as writers while managing hectic households and raising teenagers.

Apart from those similarities, I’m a bit envious that Kristin’s dream came to fruition; the man I dated in France was not meant to be a life partner and the man who’s my life partner was not destined to live in France.

Recently, my “cyber friend” Kristin hinted that a major change would soon impact her family. Readers started submitting guesses, such as: another baby, a new dog, a book or movie deal, a move to Mexico or the sale of the vineyard (Domaine Rouge-Bleu). She told us the news would emerge in late August.

And then, last week Kristin wrote a heart-wrenching post entitled “Larme” (for teardrop), in which she noted that the upcoming change “has thrown me off course.” She wrote that it was increasingly harder to find the motivation to write her blog, and that day, when she finally sat down at the computer, tears had begun to flow.

She courageously asked her readers if she should change the frequency of the blog posts from thrice weekly to once, or perhaps even less.

What followed were hundreds of responses from Kristin’s loyal readers, most concerned about her tears and her general state of mind.

As I read through the comments, it dawned on me that the struggles women face are universal, and that Carol and my blog concept, “Permission Slips,” is truly on the mark.

In our blog (and our book proposal) we stress that women need to give themselves – and their friends – permission to give themselves breaks, to jump off the treadmill, to let some of the spinning plates drop, to follow their own guiding lights.

We all spend too much energy trying to please our partners, our kids, our employers, our communities, our friends and even our in-laws, and somewhere along the way, we forget to take care of ourselves.

While specifically written for Kristin, the “French Word-A-Day” comments provide advice we could all heed: forget about doing for others for a moment, and remember to look after you. Just “listen” to a few of them:

1. Give it a Rest
[Give] yourself permission to slow down and rest — to absorb whatever change is coming in your life as it unfolds. – Ophelia

Rest. Take it easy. Watch a few silly movies. Go for a few long walks…Let someone else nurture you for a while…and you will see the sun shine again when you are ready. – Angelique

2. Take Care of You
There are times in life when we need a sabbatical to recharge and rejuvenate our lives…lest we crash and burn… We all need to take the time to take care of ourselves if we want to remain happy and productive. – Vicki

Wander around the nature about you… Little gifts are all about you and it is now time for you ~ just you.
Give yourself a special present of going somewhere beautiful and soak it all in and rejuvenate your soul.– Millissa

3. Please Yourself
Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to please [your readers]. – Lesley

Don’t be pressured to move at someone else’s pace. Don’t let your groove become a rut. – Amanda

I [recently] realized how much pressure I had put myself under… I wanted to be the perfect wife, mother, friend, worker. When I first retired…I spent time focusing on only me. [I realized] I had always put myself last before… Allow yourself time to breathe and enjoy some new activities too, rest, look after yourself, release some of the constant writing pressure. – Lin

4. Make Your Own Rules
Life often gives us too many rules. It’s time for you to set some for yourself. – Paulette

‘Rules’ and discipline that come from the outside…can seem oppressive. Or itch like an ill-fitting suit of clothes… You have the wisdom to choose what is best for YOU if you listen to the thrum of your heart. – Linda From New York

5. Don’t Feel Pressured for Perfection
Please, don’t feel like you have to have a masterpiece in order to post. – Leslie in Portland

6. It’s Your Party; Cry If You Want To
Whatever you are grieving… let the tears come. Tears are so healing… Allow [yourself] to feel the feelings. – Nancy in Ft. Worth

Be kind to yourself, cry when needed, get out in nature. – Dana

7. Give Yourself Permission to Be Yourself
Give yourself permission to write when you want. – Laurel

If you really want to stay in bed all day and read and eat bon-bons, then do so. Do it for you. – Joie

YOU will have to give yourself whatever permission you seek.
Think of how this would all look from 30,000 ft. “Is she in bed or doing her blog? Are the people in that house even home? What people? You see a house? I just see the hills and valleys.”
The intricacies of our lives matter so much to us, but step back and you’ll see the world rolling on, “the benign indifference of the universe”. – Martine NYC

So, dear reader, make a special effort to take care of yourself today. You deserve it.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 27 Aug. 2012
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Dog is My Co-pilot

In the B.D. era (“Before Dog”), I thought the bumper sticker “Dog is My Co-pilot” was really corny. Not that I preferred the original one (a different arrangement of the letters in “dog”), but I just didn’t understand the whole canine-adoration thing.

Okay, right now I can hear laughter from my fellow community members, who see me driving around town with an 85-pound Golden-doodle (half Golden Retriever, half Standard Poodle). He rides shot-gun while my kids are at school and waits in the driver’s seat while I’m in the grocery store or Starbucks.

This was especially striking when I drove a Smart Car; I often returned to that little blue machine to see strangers taking photos of Bauer behind the wheel.

In our three years together, Bauer has become my best friend and constant companion. He sleeps on a large pillow in the bedroom, and when my husband is away (which is often, as he’s a management consultant), I am comforted by the rhythmic breathing of another being.

During the day, Bauer spends most of his time in my home office, where I work as a writer and editor. He has a special place under my desk, in a corner, and literally warms my feet for hours on end. I also teach part-time at a private academy, and while he doesn’t go to school with me, he has made a few very welcome appearances there.

When I’m out and about, Bauer is always by my side—for walks in the park, drives to the store and even trips to Whistler.

Two weeks ago, while the kids vacationed with their grandparents and cousins, Bauer traveled to British Columbia with me. (My husband prefers to use his kid-free time off fly-fishing with buddies in Montana.) Sometime during the week, I realized that because of Bauer, I never felt lonely or afraid.

So, in this post I’ll permit myself to appreciate all that he provides:

Constant Companionship – My teens have great friends and full schedules, so they rarely prioritize time with me. My dog, however, is always game. No matter what he’s doing, he will drop everything to join me if I just ask, “Car?” “Walk?” or “Beach?” (Of course, the range of what he “drops” is quite limited: napping, eating, chasing flies or trying to engage the cat in play.) So, when I’m “alone,” I never feel lonely.

Fresh Air – I love exercise and really don’t need motivation for trips to the gym. Spending time outside in the fall, winter and spring is another story, though; you may have heard that Seattle experiences constant drizzle and low clouds from November through March. Because Bauer needs long walks and loves seeing his “friends,” I force myself to don the rain boots and slicker and head to the dog park several times a week. Yesterday, it was uncharacteristically hot in Seattle, and I would have loved to “chill” in our basement, reading or watching a movie. Instead, I took Bauer down to the beach, so he could cool off and tire out retrieving balls from the lake.

Protection – Although he’s quite friendly and views every human, dog and squirrel he encounters as a potential pal, I do believe that Bauer would protect me against harm. He has alerted us to cars in the driveway in the middle of the night (fortunately, that was just our college-age son), raccoons on the porch (they love cat food) and bears near our condo in Whistler. In fact, he tracks bear scents with his nose to the ground; recently, Bauer was obviously trailing a bear when a passerby said we had missed a sighting by about 30 seconds. When I’m walking with Bauer through the woods, I appreciate this advance warning.

Popularity by Association – Having a cute, friendly dog provides me with a certain social status. In the dog park, other canines run up to greet him and their “parents” always stop to chat with me. Friends call for dog walks because their dogs like mine. In our local dog park and anywhere in Whistler, strangers start conversations because of Bauer. Many encounters never would have occurred without my canine companion:

–       Last summer, a young woman who appeared to visiting British Columbia with her parents, approached me while pointing to her camera. I assumed she wanted me to take a photo of her family. Instead, she explained in very broken English that her mom wanted to pose with my dog.

–       Just a few days later, when my daughter was checking out a playground, another foreign lady signaled that she wanted a picture of her toddler sitting on Bauer. Of course, he was happy to comply.

–       A woman with a wheelchair-bound son struck up a conversation one day, saying she had watched me and Bauer outside the coffee shop several days in a row. After pumping me for information about the Golden-doodle breed, she said, “I have decided that a dog like yours would make a great companion for my son.”

–       During my recent trip, I was walking Bauer home from Whistler Village when a woman passing by on a bicycle hollered, “Hey, is that the dog I saw swimming yesterday?” I replied that yes, I had been tossing a ball off the dock at Rainbow Park. “Oh, I took a brilliant photo of him in the water, with a tennis ball in his mouth. Hey, Troy, look – it’s that dog!”

Right about now, some of you may be thinking, “That woman needs more friends.” In truth, I am blessed with many good friends. However, perhaps I need better ones. Or, maybe we should all give ourselves permission to love and value our four-legged friends.

A while back, Carol wrote about her dog, and that post resonated with moms who agree that dogs can be easier to manage and more pleasant than teenagers. I recently wrote about the similarities between raising boys and dogs. However, my emotions run deeper than that. I now realize that those of us with loyal dogs in our lives are truly fortunate.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 13 Aug. 2012
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Bridging the Generation Gap

“I’m sorry we don’t live near your grandparents or uncles,” my mom once told me. “It’s good to have someone to run away to.”

Like many people in the post-World War II era, my parents enjoyed the prosperity and modern conveniences that allowed them to move around the county, far from their parents and siblings.

I adored my grandparents, but didn’t know them well. My dad’s mother lived in a small, coal-mining town in Eastern Pennsylvania; she flew in every Christmas, bearing home-made nut-bread and Snickerdoodles. We made occasional Spring Break trips to visit the fragrant, sun-lit South Florida home my mom’s parents built when Pop-Pop retired from Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, and they sometimes traveled to see us in Chicago during the summer.

And so, when  we became “best friends” with a family that lived near us in both Boston and Chicago, we forged our own family unit, celebrating every holiday – from Christmas down through Labor Day – and major event together for decades. Our mothers commemorated their “fifty years of friendship” a few years back and the kids – some separated by thousands of miles — still enjoy an extraordinary, cousin-like closeness.

To me, that defined “family.”

Our parents made it clear we were not expected to stick around: we would attend college and establish careers wherever we wanted. As such, my oldest brother studied in Arizona and settled in Hawaii; Number Two attended school in-state, worked for a while at IBM in New York, then followed the computer-era gold rush to California. My oldest sister went to college in Minnesota and graduate school in upstate New York, then returned to Minnesota for a career in art. The sister with Down Syndrome stayed closer to home, by necessity, and the next brother attended college five hours away, but now lives in our home town. I followed that brother to college, moved to New York City for grad school and, a decade later, drove across the country to Seattle with my husband.

We still live in the Seattle area, on the island where my husband’s parents moved from Minnesota in the late 1970s. Although they attended college elsewhere, my husband and his three siblings all decided to raise their families on the island (one brother later moved his family half an hour away).

It is a close-knit family full of kind, interesting and successful adults and kind, interesting and motivated kids. Now numbering 30 people, the family gathers several times a month to celebrate holidays, birthdays, baptisms, graduations and every major achievement.

A few a years back, seven cousins attended the same elementary school – and an aunt taught second grade there.  This fall, six cousins will attend high school together. We all know we are blessed to have family that we love close by.

Rich’s parents are young and active, and are actively involved in their kids’ and grandkids’ lives. Grandpa retired early and Grandma now works as a consultant, so they have the time and resources to fully participate in family life.  They routinely provide before- and after-school care for several of the grandkids; keep a complicated calendar of the kids’ school performances, band concerts and athletic events; and often take weekend duty so their children can get away with their spouses.

However, their biggest contribution is the “family trip” they organize once a year. It started when the two oldest grandchildren were 11 and 8, and the boys’ parents were expecting a new baby. Grandma and Grandpa carted the kids off for a few days, and a new tradition was born.

That annual summer getaway now is called the “Eight and Up Trip”—as the grandkids can attend as soon as they turn eight. The location is always kept secret until the last minute. About 10 days before the trip, Grandpa starts sending out clues, such as “We will go west, then north, then east, then north, then east, then south,” or this year’s code-breaker: “These numbers tell the whole story: 4, 216, 3 56, 70, 1350, 5399,” which an industrious grandson deciphered as: 4 days away, 216 miles to travel, 3:56 travel time, 70 degrees at the destination, 1,350-foot elevation and a 5,399-yard golf course (Mt. Hood).

At its peak four years ago, the vacation included 16 grandchildren, but Grandma and Grandpa have since wisely split off the 18-and-older crowd, which now enjoys an annual golf weekend near the Canadian border.

Vacations usually involve car travel, although last summer, the crew (two adults, 10 kids) took an overnight train to Montana. (After a 12-hour delay on the way home, that won’t be repeated.) Golf and water sports always factor into the trip, as do raucous games of Monopoly and Rummy.

Yesterday morning, the group left on another five-day vacation. As the ages now range from 11 to 17, I suspect my in-laws will spend considerable time and effort managing teenage hormones and attitudes.

I won’t hear from my kids while they’re away, and I won’t hear much about the trip afterwards. When they return, Grandma and Grandpa will assure us as always – with bags under their eyes and forced smiles  – “Oh, everyone was terrific!” even though we know better. The cousins will keep their memories, inside jokes and secrets between themselves, and recall them with smiles through the coming year.

This close, extended-family model is not one I grew up with, but I have come to fully embrace it. In fact, I will give myself permission to take my own grandkids (God willing – and not too soon, please) to my own “Grandparents’ Camp” in due time.

–        Linda Williams Rorem, 30 July, 2012
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