Category Archives: Moving on

Get out the pom pons

At dinner the other night with my newest friend-from-divorce-support we talked about how we had spent our lives being our now-ex spouse’s and children’s cheerleaders.

And that now it was time to be our own.

We don’t really know how to do that, but we decided that we would start by finding other women who were in the same position. Kind of start with cheerleading one another, and that maybe we’d get good at cheering ourselves. Just a few, to start.

Recently I tripped across the organizational development process known as Appreciative Inquiry.

When I was in corporate America we occasionally would go through these improvement initiatives – no doubt the brainchild of some middle manager who needed to prove his worth – that required us to get together in groups, find problems, document them and then figure out how to solve them. They came and went; we’d have the meetings, we’d make the charts, we’d create the PowerPoint presentations, and then we’d come up with ways to solve the problems we didn’t know we had until we started the process… Anyway, Appreciate Inquiry is one of those improvement processes that starts out a little differently. You start by figuring out what’s good – where the strengths are, and where the successes lie.

So I spent some time at the AI Commons website, and it occurred to me that this could be a nice way to start… not with what’s wrong but with what’s right.

You see, when you go through a divorce, you start to see (well, at least I did) your life through a rather dim lens. Something failed. You were part of something that broke. To use the corporate America metaphor, your organization went bankrupt and the management was responsible. And there was no government bailout. And we got fired.

Here’s the plan: find a small group of women (and, yes, that may be arbitrary, but I’m in charge so I get to pick and I only want women in this) who would like to figure out what’s right, would like to help one another move forward and participate in something where they can get unconditional support.

And I’m sure we’ll have cookies, too.

1 Comment

Filed under Moving on, Support, Uncategorized

The table

My friend Sue used to volunteer at a prison in Michigan City, Indiana. She led worship services and celebrated holidays with the Jewish prisoners. They even had a name for their community: Beit Heirut, House of Freedom.

Now, this is an unusual name for a group of men in a prison, and, when asked, they would tell you all about how there were certain freedoms for them that they attained through their worship and camaraderie. Their name aside, there were, of course, many restrictions put on Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom – because they were in such an unusual setting. One Hanukkah, for instance, the volunteers wanted to bring in home-baked goods (a real no-no in prisons and, well, schools I guess) like potato pancakes (latkes). For many Jews, Hanukkah just isn’t the same without latkes, those delicious, greasy symbols of the miracle oil that burned for eight days when it should have run out after one. The volunteers were told that they couldn’t bring in latkes from home, so that year the men in Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom – celebrated Hanukkah with McDonald’s hash browns (which, ironically, are probably healthier anyway).

The members of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom – worshipped like we do for the holidays. They prayed from the same prayerbooks that many Jews “on the outside” use; they sang the songs we sing and they told sermons about topics that are difficult for all of us – things like teshuvah, or repentance; forgiveness and finding the holy in everyday life. There is nothing like hearing a man who is serving a life sentence for murder talk about forgiveness to make you stop and think, that’s for sure.

One thing that the men did not have was a Torah – the holy scripture. Torahs are expensive, and, while old prayerbooks can be found in used book stores and in forgotten storage places in overcrowded synagogues, one is unlikely to find an unused Torah hanging around. Physically, they’re heavy, big, awe-inspiring things: two heavy wooden posts with yards and yards of parchment wrapped around them. The production of a Torah takes hours and hours, and, well, you just don’t find them lying around.

We Jews revere the Torah. We have a special place to put it when it’s not being read. We stand when it is presented to the congregation. It is an honor to bless it, carry it, dress it and certainly to read from it. Torahs are checked regularly to make sure that they remain intact and are not pasul – unfit for public reading. Sadly, when a Torah becomes torn or otherwise unreadable it is retired from public use and destined to be buried – mourned forever by the community it leaves.

It was such a Torah that my friend Sue managed to find and acquire as a donation to the men of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom. Pasul – yes – and unfit for the general community – it was almost fitting that this dejected Torah spend the last of its days in this unusual brotherhood of Jews.

The men of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom – were elated. To have their own Torah from which to read, to honor, with which to dance – this was a true cause for celebration. They didn’t care whether or not it was pasul – they just cared that they be able to embrace this wonderful gift and treat it as it deserved to be treated.

When one is not reading a Torah, it’s not like you put it on a shelf in the office or stick it in a drawer. It sits in a very special place – the Aron Kodesh, or holy Ark. When you enter a synagogue sanctuary, the Aron Kodesh is often at the front of the room. They are likely to be majestic structures, ornate and decorative. Magnificent even. They have words on them like holy, community, and Torah.

What were the men of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom – to do? They didn’t have the means to purchase an Aron Kodesh, and it surely would be impossible to get one donated to this ragtag group of Jews.

The members of Beit Heirut approached the warden of the prison. Did he have any ideas? Was there any wood that they could acquire to build an Aron Kodesh? They had skills, and the prison had a woodshop. All they needed was the material from which to build the holy Ark.

The warden had a solution. There was an old wooden table that the prison was no longer using. The men could use the table to build their Ark.

This would work. The men could use the table and repurpose it to house their Torah. Not only would they have this wonderful Torah to have as their own, they would be able to honor it as it required, with its own home.

The table was taken out of storage, the men got to work, and the Aron Kodesh was built. The men of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom – were happy. Their community felt sacred.

Why am I telling you this story in a blog about healing from divorce?

You didn’t ask me what the table used to be used for.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. Ask.

You’ve seen prison movies, right? You know prison lore, don’t you? What’s one of the last things that happens before a condemned prisoner is put to death?

He or she gets that last meal. You know – their last chance to eat that great steak (extra cholesterol, please), fatty fries and super-creamy chocolate pie. With a triple ice-cream milk shake, too. No calorie counting.

Where do you think they used to eat that last meal in the prison in Michigan City?

Uh-huh. On that table. The table that now houses the Torah, the sacred scroll of the community of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom.

The men took that table – a symbol of the desperation of a person about to lose his life, the failings of a society that has no choice but to put such people to death, the sadness of a grieving family who wonders if “an eye for an eye” will ease their pain – and made it into one of the holiest symbols of the Jewish people.

Out of pain, suffering, and a last resort we can create a sacred space. This we learn from the story of the Aron Kodesh and the men of Beit Heirut – the House of Freedom.

3 Comments

Filed under Moving on

Custody issues

Getting divorced late in life generally means that custody isn’t a problem. The kids are grown. And I ‘got’ the dogs and the house (questionable at times about whether that was good or not).

But who gets custody of the age-old recipes?

Last night we went to my older daughter’s for Hanukkah. Mr. Ex brought spinach cheese pie.

This would not seem to be a crisis, or even fodder for a blog post.

But this spinach cheese pie is THE spinach cheese pie that I found some 30 years ago, when I needed to find a dish to bring to potlucks to guarantee that Mr. Ex, a vegetarian, would have something to eat. I’ve been making it so long that I don’t even need to refer to a recipe; so long that I know what ingredients I can play with and what ingredients are sacrosanct. So long that, when Mr. Ex asked me for the recipe before Thanksgiving, I was able to type it into an email and send it to him without even looking for it.

Normally I would have been bringing it, but I decided to make bourbon hot dogs instead. I no longer feel an obligation to make sure that Mr. Ex has something to eat. And since latkes (potato pancakes) were being served, he would have those to eat as well, if I was worrying about whether or not he would go hungry.

Later on, though, at the house, one of my son-in-law’s cousins complimented me on the dish, thinking that I had made it. Of course he would think I had made it – I make it all the time.

I started thinking about this recipe.

It’s mine.

I’m famous for it.

It’s my signature dish, in fact.

And now I can’t assume that I can bring it – maybe Mr. Ex will. We certainly wouldn’t want a spinach cheese pie throwdown.

Harumph.

Of course, in the great scheme of things, losing one’s spinach cheese pie rights is not worth a second thought. I read about 10 food magazines a month, not to mention countless food blogs and I probably watch at least 10 hours a month of the Food channel (oy). I can find another dish to bring.

Not a big deal, I guess.

It’s kind of the thought, though. And it’s the complication now that, if I know Mr. Ex is attending an event, I need to check to make sure that he’s not bringing MY dish.

And maybe it’s good – like everything else this year – I’ll tuck the spinach cheese pie away, along with the photos, the notes, the wedding rings – and move on.

To asparagus, perhaps.

Yes, your honor. It’s fine if she gets the house, the Rolls, and the condo in Aspen. I just want the family recipes cookbook…

And, if you’re wondering – the famous spinach cheese pie recipe:

2 packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and with as much liquid squeezed out as possible
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese (I usually go with a small curd 2%)
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice (seriously – I’ve used, chedder, swiss, mixed, whatever’s-in-the-fridge)
1/4 cup flour or matzah meal (thus making this kosher for Passover, if you so desire)
1 stick margarine or butter, melted or 1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon seasoning. I like Trader Joe’s Seasoning Salute, but I’ve also used garlic powder, Season-All, whatever. Or nothing if you don’t want to use anything

Grease a casserole dish. Mix everything up and bake it at 350 for an hour. Or hotter for less. This is a very forgiving and flexible recipe.

Enjoy.

4 Comments

Filed under Moving on

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all time. I love the food, the smells, the crowd, the preparation. I love having people I love around me and I love that you can eat really good food and you don’t have to rush off to synagogue.

I’ve made Thanksgiving for most of the last 30 years. For many of them it was the same crowd, give or take; the four of us, our ‘best-friend’ family, my mother, maybe my brother and his family. Some years we included some other friends, some years there was a boyfriend or so, some years somebody was out of town, like the year youngest was at her Disney internship and I got to make two Thanksgivings – the second of which was Thanksgiving-Shabbat when she was in town early in November.

Last year I didn’t do Thanksgiving. Mr. Ex had just moved out, and oldest wanted to do it anyway. It seemed like a good year to be a guest instead of a host. I missed it though – big time.

This year, it seemed that nobody in my son-in-law’s family was really excited about making the holiday. Oldest is making seder so two big holidays didn’t excite her, and everyone else has “their” holiday. Wow… my favorite holiday and it’s up for grabs. So, I grabbed it.

Yes, people. I’m having 20 guests for Thanksgiving and I’m only really related to two – my daughter and my brother.

And I couldn’t be more excited. First, I’m thrilled to be able to host these wonderful people who have welcomed me into their homes for the last year – holidays, birthdays, whatever. They consider me part of their family and I am honored and humbled to be included. I adore my son-in-law’s niece and nephew and have grown to be very fond of his cousins and their families.

No doubt, it will be different. My mother is gone, Mr. Ex won’t be there (wow – the possibility of non-vegetarian stuffing is almost intoxicating. Sausage-and-corn-bread here I come), and our former ‘best-friend’ family is no more, since I kind of lost them in the divorce. Yes, there’s no question that this will be different.

But I will still be with a whole bunch of people of whom I’m very fond – even love – and who have been good to me. And, in the end, we’ll all remember all the things for which we’re grateful.

As my late father would say, prost! (translation: cheers!)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

3 Comments

Filed under Creating a new life, Moving on

Isn’t it romantic?

I was out to dinner with Mr. Engineer last night. Now, I’m not really interested in him romantically. He’s very nice, but there’s no spark at all (even though he’s an engineer – pun intended). But I enjoy going out with him for dinner and I feel like it’s good for me to remind myself that I’m capable of speaking to men to whom I’m not related and haven’t been working with for 15 years. Not that, being a teacher, I work with many men anyway.

He mentioned during the course of our conversation that he has sleep apnea and uses one of those machines that wakes you if you stop breathing during the night. That’s why, he explained, he doesn’t travel much outside the US – he’s worried about the electricity (makes sense to me).

I have carpal tunnel and use wrist braces at night. They’re essentially ace bandage supports with metal splints to keep my wrists straight. If I don’t use them my wrists tend to bend and lose circulation and then my hands go so numb that it wakes me. I could never figure out how numbness could wake you – but that’s another post.

So I get this mental picture of a romantic first liaison. He with his sleep machine, me with my wrist braces. Not exactly like when I was in my 20’s and the only thing you worried about was whether or not your roommate would walk in. Or in my 30’s when we worried about whether or not the kids would walk in. Now I feel like I’m just one step away from worrying that he’s going to knock down the water glass with my teeth in it.

Isn’t it romantic?

3 Comments

Filed under Dating, Made me laugh, Moving on

Elul reflections

We are in the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we take time during Elul to reflect on the waning year and to prepare for the time of renewal that the High Holy Days bring.

As I reflect on the last year – and on the previous 30 years – I’m trying to use this as a road map for the coming year.

I don’t regret doing the things I did to give my children as wonderful a childhood as I could. And I am reaping the richness of doing so; my daughters are amazing individuals who live their lives with integrity, purpose, kindness and conviction. I stayed in my marriage because I thought that was best for my family and, even though the marriage has ended, I still believe that it was a good decision (btw – it’s taken almost a year of therapy to say that). I also benefited from my decision in many ways; I have a career I love, with colleagues I love, and have found ways to earn a reasonable living doing it. I developed a strength that I may not have developed in a different relationship – a strength that serves me well today.

Of course I have some regrets. I worry that the strength I nurtured will make it difficult for me to ever enter into a relationship with a real man. Not a real man as opposed to a fantasy man, of course, but a mature, responsible man with a genuine sense of self. I worry that my “guard” will be too hard to break down. But I’m starting to understand that that will take time – and the right person – to address.

My more immediate regret is that I subjugated myself in so many ways. And I see this same subjugation in many of my friends. Because we moms and wives put everyone else’s needs in front of our own, we forget who we are and ignore the things that nurture us.

In my own case, I’m talking about my creative energy. Over the last year I realized that my energy went into my family; making the best home I could with limited resources, giving my girls things like camp, and propping up my husband for thirty years. Again – I have no regrets. I made these choices as a free woman and I would do it all over again (although I do think that I would have ended the marriage five years ago, rather than working so hard to repair it at that point).

All the things that bother me about my home seem to stem from the lack of creative appearance. I want color, texture and inspirational surroundings. My wardrobe is the same – I want to wear what reflects on the outside what’s on the inside (rather than what, sadly, fits and is affordable). I want to entertain creatively and live creatively, too.

I’m going to start a creative journal – one in which I reflect each day how I’ve done something creative to enhance my home, my wardrobe and my social life. I think it may have to be unelectronic, because I’d like to use watercolors and ink, but I’ll try to scan pages where I can.

In closing, I quote the great American prophet, Tina Turner. Seriously – can you imagine anyone better to look to when transforming your life?

Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything . . . whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

1 Comment

Filed under Creating a new life, Haven for one, Moving on, Singleness, Transition

In the final analysis

So, with August 17th looming in front of me, staring me in the face like the combination of a dreaded dentist appointment (painful, yes, but a certain end to a lingering problem. And f’ing expensive) and spending three hours cleaning out closets (loved it once, don’t need it any more), I find myself going back to the ol’ marriage evaluation thing. I actually didn’t go there for quite some time. I guess I figured that I’d spent enough time doing that and now I needed to get into moving on mode. But here, in the 11th hour, it sneaks up on me unbidden and unwelcomed. But sneaks up it does, and it immediately lodges itself into some of my brain real estate.

For some reason, this morning, as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee (I’m still trying to get the dogs to do that, but they’re just not getting it. I think it’s the whole “1 packet Sweet’N Low, 5 drops Stevia, a little fat free half-n-half” regimen) I had an image of Mr. Ex and me using the Cusinart early in our marriage to chop vegetables. That was really early in our marriage, because it didn’t take long to figure out that vegetable chopping was way easier with an, um, knife, but the Cusinart was a wedding gift and we were going to use it, damnit. By the way, I still have the Cusinart, so it’s one more thing that lasted longer than my marriage. But I digress.

I remember it well, for some reason. We were putting cucumbers into the Cusinart, and Mr. Ex pretended that he was the vegetable, and started screaming something like “no, don’t do it.”

I also remember laughing like that was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. Seriously? Was I high?

You know how sometimes you see parts of your life like they’re scenes from a movie? Well, that was how I saw that scene. I saw us, young (and I mean young – my youngest is several years older than I was at the time), learning to be a married couple together. I saw us playing in the kitchen (stop that – get your mind out of the gutter. I mean playing, like with kitchen appliances). We were barely adults, playing at being married. And it was fun. Like playing house. And I remember being happy.

Happy. What on earth does that mean? I went to the doctor yesterday to refill a certain anti-depressant that I started in September the week that Mr. Ex moved out. The doctor was actually looking to see if he should up the dosage, and asked me if I was happy. Now, I’m not generally a person who gets stumped, but I just couldn’t answer that question.

I don’t know.

I think I’m content.

But happy – meh, not so sure.

More importantly, I didn’t think I could really remember what happy feels like.

But, looking back at the cucumber murder scene in the kitchen (and, by the way, it’s WAAAAY easier and less messy to slice cucumbers with a knife), I distinctly remember happy. Happy that we were cooking together, compatible, enjoying each other’s company. Happy in the moment.

Ah – there’s the rub. Happy in the moment. Like a child is happy with a new toy, until it falls under the couch and is then forgotten. Like an teenage girl with a new shirt, until the newest style comes out. Fleeting happiness.

At some point during the marriage, happy in the moment ceased to be enough. I wanted more. I wanted security. I needed security like a baby needs a swaddling blanket. I wanted respect. Not just the polite respect of conversation – “please pass the salt,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome” – but the deep down, unspoken respect shown by a husband taking care of things, being a partner, caring enough to put aside his own momentary happiness aside and get down to the business of being a responsible adult, husband and father. And doing it without nagging and constant reminders.

And as I realized that just being happy in the moment wasn’t enough, I became anxious. I became a worrier. And, somewhere, security became so elusive that it turned into my Holy Grail. Like Indiana Jones I dodged bullets, changed courses and avoided certain death. But I never got there. Oh, in the beginning it would look like it was there. I could see it. I was still an optimist and would believe that it was in my grasp. But the music would change, the pacing would speed up, and . . . it would be gone.

So now I don’t have any of it. I can’t remember happy and I don’t have security. I imagine it’s unlikely that I’ll never really have security. Seriously. I’m too old to amass the kind of retirement security the “experts” keep telling me I need, and, in the current economy, I just can’t see I’ll ever get there. I’m guessing that my standard of living in retirement will be lower than it is now, which is an accurate expectation for my generation. So I guess it’s a future as a Wal-Mart cart person for me. Oh well. Whatever.

But happy – that’s probably a more realistic goal. I can still get there, I suppose. And, unfortunately, I’m truly convinced that it requires the demise of my 30-year marriage. What a shame. What a waste. What a loss – really.

3 Comments

Filed under Creating a new life, Evaluating a marriage, Moving on