Friday, December 13, 2019

After the letters, begin the photos

After reading through so many letter and postcards, and deciding most of them were ready to be let go, it was time to start on the photos. Before the advent of digital photographs, well before the birth of smart phones and Instagram, every roll of negatives was printed, and for a period of time often printed in duplicate. That's a lot of paper and ink. That's even more fuzzy images without a delete button. And when you decide that your kids should snap photos of the world from their vantage point, it's a lot of sidewalks and shoes. Fuzzy sidewalks and shoes.

And for some inexplicable reason, I kept them. In boxes, in envelopes, in albums, among letters and cards and mementos. Sometimes I was good, and a trip's worth of photos were culled to a reasonable number and housed -in order- -with notes- in a small 4x6" album. Go me. But let's be real, that was not the norm.

So along with the old boyfriend letters, out went the old boyfriend photos. Along with the kids' toddler doodles went the half-face-grimacing-in-a-swim-diaper photos. I have plenty still in my little box, only now the little box is 1/2 full with only photos that bring a smile and are reasonably discernible.

I'm not done yet. Of course I'm not done yet. There are more boxes of photos to go through. So many more. But it's a good task, and an easier one with Becca asking the ever lingering question "Really?" Because the most, the answer is (after a big sigh) "No, I guess not" and off it goes into the land of memory, ready to fade into merely a hint, a shimmer, of my history.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wading through the past

I really enjoy writing paper, envelope, stamp letters.  I like sending mail, I like receiving mail. Before email and Messenger and Skype and Facebook, letters were where it was at for catching up on everything after "I'm so sorry I haven't written in sooooooo long!"  For 20¢ (a little more for international), I could send pages and pages or a single card to a friend somewhere else in the world.  Getting a letter or card filled with words of encouragement, love, or "this is what I did today, how about you?" was simply connectivity at its finest.

But man, after Ian and I built a family together and email came about, fewer paper letters overall and I quit writing in general, and so did all my friends. I have sifted through stacks of Christmas cards, Valentine's Day cards, Easter cards,  starting in the late 70s. When was the last time you received a Halloween card in the mail from a friend? Granted, I'd much rather receive a letter than a card any day, but the sheer number of cards I've read through in the past couple days...

Because I am reading them. Each one. Each card, letter, note, newspaper clipping, postcard and I have some thoughts so bear with me, or just skip the rest.

* My best friend from Algiers, my longest friend starting in 3rd grade, I didn't realize that I'd kept in touch with her through almost the entirety of high school. And then poof, nothing. I have no idea where she is, so if you know a Nadia Othman who was in Algiers and the child of Iranian and Polish parents, can you hook me up?

* Middle school was one of the highlights of my life. Friends from Niger came to my wedding. I still know where a bunch of them are and follow them on FB. These were such special people and I miss them. When I left Niamey, the letter-writing began in earnest.

* My two closest friends from high school, Meredith and Kristin, are FB friends and we wrote back and forth all through college. Long letters about college life, semesters abroad, summer jobs.

* College. For as poor as we all were we wrote a lot of letters, especially the summer of 1992. I'm FB friends with a number of college buddies and I recall how funny and clever and sweet they were.

* Starting in 1994, the majority of letters I still own are between Ian and I. They are delightful and bring me such joy and contentment. I may not have known at the beginning that he was absolutely the right person for me, but reading through, I should have known. I should have seen it - these letters outlined the building blocks as we head towards our 24th wedding anniversary.

As expected, the full range of emotions are found in all these mementos.

Boredom was pretty prevalent in the summer letters, unfulfilling part-time jobs will do that.  But the flip side was a lot of excitement for school to start up again so our gang could reform.

Joy was a big one too. We shared a lot about our plans and were encouraging and hopeful. There was a block of letters where I told my friends about my engagement and my 1st pregnancy all at once.  I'm sure in the background there's a lot of "better her than me," but in the words there was nothing but well wishes and support.

There are letters from ex-boyfriends and those elicit a word of gratitude for being stepping stones to where I am now - which I hope they see the same way.

There was some angst. Friends falling out with each other, me falling out with them. How I wish I could go back and fix some of the stupid I did. Some stories are pieced together from a note here and a line there. One of my closest friends in college was my roommate of 3 years, but I did what a lot of people do when they find a new love and my roommate suffered for it, and as a result so did I because she's not in my life anymore. Like I said, stupid.

And sadness, there's some sadness in these letters as well. Letters from my parents, cards from friends who tried so hard to be good and kind to me as I shrugged them away, long passages explaining a mistake or a hurt or a desire for something to change.

But most of all there is love, love in all its forms.  Love in concern, love in excitement, love in the pure love of friends sharing themselves with each other. I had so many friends, the letters prove it. People who took out time to write. Clearly, one of my love languages is the written word, because a pad of nice paper, a good pen, and an afternoon to write to someone I care about is a package of happiness, and receiving a letter tells me that person thought of me with the same love (even if they didn't know it :) )

Most of the letters are no longer with me now. It's time to say goodbye. They'll live fresh in my memory for now, and fade once again over time but they won't be renewed. Oh, I've kept a number of them. Ones that chatted about shared adventures or momentous occasions, most of the letters from Ian and my relationship, notes from my kids, my parents, and my grandparents.

In another 20 years I may reread them to touch on again how lucky I am to have been so loved my entire life. Even as I know how lucky I am right now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A breakdown of R&R #1, Week 2

So we picked up our rental car, a Toyota RAV4 that we really enjoyed driving, stopped by my parents' home for lunch and to pick up some items, then made our way to Fayetteville, NC where I'd booked a loft apartment for the next 2 weeks.  What's in Fayetteville? Besides Fort Bragg, not much.  But it was 5 hours from NoVA so an easy drive, an hour from Raleigh where we knew we were going to a Hurricanes game, 2 hours from Jacksonville and we knew we'd be picking up Nicholas for a weekend, and 5 hours from Atlanta where we knew we'd be visiting Becca for a weekend. Not quite middlin, but middlin enough for our purposes.

We tried to do everything there was to do in Fayetteville.  There for 2 weeks, we had the time.  We ate at Biscuitville. Not really worth it. Since our place was right at old town (old 2 blocks?) we ate at Antonella's and Pierros and Blue Moon Cafe and Circa 1800 and Huske Hardware House, and picked up coffee from Rude Awakenings. They were all really good, so as depressed the area is and how many storefronts were vacant, the eating establishments were great.

They also have a sweet little Cameo Art House Theater.  With 2 screens they have their movies and showtimes posted on the door and open up 30 minutes before whatever show starts them rolling. We saw "JoJo Rabbit" and "Parasite."  "JoJo Rabbit" is wonderful.  You might not think so when the basic storyline is a 10 year old Nazi-in-training and his imaginary friend, Hitler.  But truly, a delightful film you should see.  We read reviews of "Parasite" but left not really sure how to feel about it. Maybe that was the point though.

One day the first week it rained hard all day and the following day it was downright cold and blustery. So we stayed in and watched what some might call "too much TV." We enjoy watching together and haven't been able to, so this was bonding time. The Boys: someone told us it turned dark, and it did, but a good season 1 all around. Killing Eve: clever and enjoyable, an enjoyable first season. Derry Girls: everyone should watch this one, it's so much fun, and if you were raised Catholic all the better. Fleabag: I'd watched the first episode and deemed it overly sad, so we watched the first episode together and Ian thought the same, so enough of that. The Mandalorian: we saw what was out (and we'll catch up later) and if you look at each episode as a short graphic novel mini-adventure, then all is good. We watched several televised Capitals games.

We didn't catch up on The Good Place, The Crown, and several other shows, but that's OK.

On Thursday, we drove to Jacksonville to pick up Nicholas who had just returned from training in California. He went for a massage and medi (isn't that what you call a mani/pedi??), attended a Fayetteville Marksmen game (tip, don't follow GPS to the Crown Center... the entrance is in the back), did the MayDay Escapology room, shopped at Dick's sporting goods to knock some items off his Christmas list, put some good food into him, and just enjoyed hanging out.

On Sunday we returned him to Camp LeJeune.  Until February.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thank goodness this stuff is coming in waves.

We received our first shipment (#1/4) into this tiny 2-bedroom apartment. Which essentially means that between each delivery, my job is to cull, cull, and cull some more.  Give things to the kids, throw things away, donate, sell, get-it-out-of-this-apartment-because-more-stuff-is-coming. It's all a little horrifying. And then we do something like buy a couch that comes in a billion parts. And FedEx delivers it to the door. When we aren't home. So I'm sure my neighbors have a great impression of me already. Yay.

I'm staying with my parents this week but going to the apartment to clean up and clean out.  My goal it to have gone through every box, of which there are only 8 left, and at least know what's in them.  A few with kids' books will get closed up again and tucked in a corner.  Sorry Ian.  I will go through them and pull out books I don't think are worth keeping, but Hop on Pop isn't going anywhere. Or The Three Wishes. Or Where's Wally.

The goal once Becca is here and Katherine comes down is to actually go through the stuff piece by piece and pitch, donate, or (heaven help me) keep. There are photos.  So many photos.  Boxes and boxes of photos.  And postcards. And kids' drawings.  So many kids' drawings.  I framed them. So many giant framed kids' drawings.

Today I made it through emptying 3 boxes. Yup, just 3. Cleared out a few photo albums - how many duplicates and fuzzy photos...? Aaaaaaaaaaahhhh. Emptied my suitcase of the clothes I'd brought over.  Did a load of laundry. Made a bed. Stapled platform slats bath together that had separated. Put together a metal rack for the balcony - it'll hold plants eventually. Cleared the kitchen counters. Piled up an assortment of NWT children's items to give away. Posted the dining table and the second bunk/loft bed set for sale on our building page.  If they don't move there... anyone want a dining table and/or a twin/twin loft/bunk?  The dining table is a light wood IKEA round table with 2 leaves and 4 chairs. We're taking $100 OBO for either item.

This isn't the exact loft/bunk, but it's the same style (ours has darker wood, different drawer knobs, no chair, does have an additional dresser, one mattress though you'd probably want new mattresses anyway, comes partially assembled, no instructions but we've put everything together (including the rolly bed) without any so the parts are pretty self-explanatory, entire set available after Jan 1):

Both were used for 3 years before storage, and then sat in storage for 7 years (full disclosure - young kids).  Our apartment simply doesn't have room for furniture that filled a 4 bedroom house (with basement). I know you understand. And yes, we might be a little desperate. These things have to go.  But what if you want the loft without the rolly bed and separate dresser and want it now? Let's talk. The only part I need to hang on to until after the holidays is the rolly. Blogger keeps underlining rolly. Is it spelled roley? Nope, that's underlined too. Oh well.

So today was a moderately successful day.  I want the closets and the second bedroom essentially empty in order to take in the big shipment from ELSO in January, but I fear we'll be stacking things in the hall and I'm pretty sure that's against building policy. We might have to get a storage room. Or two. Can you tell I'm working myself up about this? Because I am.

Deep breath. It's going to be a long couple months and a lot of dust, but I have a self-imposed end date of early Feb when Ian should be home again. And I do have help for my current situation. Becca is with me for 3 weeks, and Katherine will be coming down regularly to help (Didn't know that, K? Now you do.).

One day at a time.  66 days to go.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A breakdown of R&R #1, Week 1

Week #1 in DC.

My dad was amazing and dropped me off at Dulles airport to await Ian's arrival.  There was time to get a grande iced skinny latte while I waited. Starbucks is smart and has a store right at the international arrivals exit. The latte wasn't for me.

The plan for the week was simple. Reconnect and just be.

I can hear the echoes of dismissal.... there are spouses gone for much longer (he was gone for 4 months) ; back in the day there was no internet (we talked on Messenger several times a week, and IMed daily) ; others have done this multiple times (this is our first) ; so many survive this with small children (ours are all grown) ; many don't have a home/parents/sibling they can stay in/with (my parents have been wonderful)..... and of course the parents with small kids on their third UT back in the 90s living in a hotel. Yes, I hear you.

It's still hard.

We took a Washington Flyer to our hotel in DC and spent the next week doing a lot of walking to fun stuff in the city we love. The hotel location had us shopping at Whole Foods and eating from Sweet Greens and just loving everything about city living.

On that Wednesday Katherine came for an overnight visit to hang out with us. In the evening we walked to Georgetown to have dinner at Il Canale with some friends from Baghdad and enjoyed a leisurely walk and talk with Katherine down M Street. Thursday we started our apartment hunt at Columbia Plaza and -wow- is that place convenient for us State Department folk, but it was visit #1/9, there were a lot more places to see all with their own pros and cons. Katherine was only able to see the first place so couldn't compare at the time, but now that she's seen the apartment we did choose, I think she concurs we made the better choice. We had lunch with her at Founding Farmers before sending her back off to MD and her work. The visit was short but we knew we'd see her again at the end of the month for Thanksgiving.

A performance of "Amadeus" at the Folger Theater. Did you know the play came first? I bought tickets blind and only knew that the two shared a name, didn't have a clue what it really was - and it was fabulous. Highly recommended. Shows are until 29 December I think. A Capitals win at Capital One Center (though it's still Verizon to me) against the Vegas Golden Knights. And after picking up the rental car at National we had lunch at my parents' home before driving to Fayetteville, NC, and out loft apartment for the next 2 weeks.

Five hours is about my max for a day's drive, and I prefer to do it in daylight, so unfortunately Ian did the whole 5+ hours and most of it in the dark.  But the car was great (our first RAV4) and I made it up to him by driving other long hauls, so it's all good. There's lots of time to talk on road trips and we had multiple days to spend in the car. Truly, it's what we wanted.

Our plan for R&R: Long drives where we could talk, or just touch hands. Long walks where we could talk, or just hold hands. Long, rainy days where we could talk, or just hold hands. Long dinners where we could talk, or just touch hands. You get the idea.

We talked a lot. We touched even more. Just call me a sap. It was exactly the kind of week we needed.