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February 14, 2009

Meeting my Soulmate

I loved the story and photos Barb Cabot posted on her blog, of how she and her husband Mike met. They've been together over 30 years, and it was fun to see the "then" and "now" photos. I also loved the romantic story shared by Palma, and the photo of her with Brad in their early days. They inspired me today-- Valentine's Day-- to share the story of how Charley and I met and share a couple of our old photos too.

Charley and I found each other later in life. We met in August 1991 when he was 46 and just before I turned 36. He had been divorced about five years after a 20-year marriage to his college girlfriend, and had two daughters, age 16 and 21.

I was a very driven career woman and had never been married. I was engaged briefly when I was only 18 to my high school boyfriend (thank goodness that didn't work out!) and lived with my college boyfriend while we were in graduate school together in Philadelphia. We didn't end up taking jobs in the same city and drifted apart. Later I had a couple of relationships with older men, one of which lasted on-and-off for maybe eight years until finally he married someone else, a woman his own age. As I approached my 36th birthday, I had many close friends, a loving family (all 500 miles away), a great job, decent money, a nice home, but not that special person to love.

I decided to buy a brand-new BMW and worked with a salesman named Dan to make the purchase. The car I ordered was being shipped in from another state, and I made an appointment with Dan to go and pick it up. When I arrived at the dealership, Dan was waiting for me. "I have another appointment," he said. "But Charley will go over the car with you."

I didin't understand why Dan would make an appointment with me and then make another appointment at the same time, but I was very excited about this fancy car. So I shook hands with Charley and got in the car while he spent at least 30 minutes showing how everything worked. When I got out of the car, there was Dan.

"Well, what did you think?!" he asked. He was very excited.

"I love the car. It's great," I said.

"No, no! Not the car! Charley! What did you think about Charley??!"

Dan told me that Charley had seen me visiting the dealership and wanted to ask me out. Could he give Charley my phone number? (There was no other appointment...)

"Is he single?" I asked, a little bit wary based on past experience.

Yes, Charley was single, divorced for several years. The whole idea of a car salesman was a little concerning to me, but I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend just a few weeks ago. "You need to be more open to different sorts of men," she told me. "Everyone isn't defined by their job."

So I told Dan to give Charley my phone number. We had dinner a few weeks later and about six-and-a-half weeks after that we were engaged. My friends couldn't believe that I was marrying a man I had only known six weeks, and a car salesman too! The reality was that Charley was (and is) a very special man, with unusual talents and so many interests. He had spent most of his career in chemical sales and took the job selling BMWs as an interim job to get away from a job that involved 100% travel. Who would have ever thought I would find my soulmate while buying a BMW?! Neither of us were really looking for love just then, but we sure did find it.

I drove that BMW for 12 years. It had such a strong sentimental value to me, plus it was a very good car. And I still drive a BMW today.

We met in August 1991, had our first date in September, got engaged in November. We got married in May 1992 and had Kelly in July 1993. In less than two years my life really changed-- a husband, a roommate, a baby, a family. We went to London on our honeymoon, and that was the beginning of another new passion for both of us. We never would have dreamed the life that we've had together the past (almost) 17 years.

Here are a couple of old photos from our early years:

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November 1991. A first photo so my parents could see their future son-in-law.


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May 2, 1992. The first dance at our wedding.


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September 18, 1993 (my 38th birthday). With baby Kelly, 8 weeks old.


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May 2007 in Provence

February 17, 2009

Did I once resemble someone famous?

After I posted some old photos on my blog a few days ago, Barb Cabot e-mailed me to say that I reminded her of someone famous.

Actually, back in my past (my younger, much thinner days), people used to say quite often that I resembled this same person. Given who this person was, and how famous she was at the time, I considered these comments as incredible compliments. I didn't really think I looked like her, but occasionally in a photo you could see some similarity.

What do you think? These are photos from the mid 1980's, when I was about 30 years old (and I think about a size 5 or 7).

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Maid of Honor at my sister's wedding


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With my sister the following year

My sister is two years younger than me. We've looked a lot alike our whole lives, but she's not the famous woman Barb wrote me about.

Click on "Continue reading" to see if you are thinking of the same person.

Continue reading "Did I once resemble someone famous?" »

February 18, 2009

The Cookie Day Girls

I was very interested in Marcia's post yesterday about her group of friends. Marcia's group went all the way back to grade school, which I think is so great. Friends for almost 50 years! I also liked Jan's recent post about her book group-- they have been getting together for going on 17 years.

I have been wanting to post about my special friends too, and today is a good time because we just got together for dinner last night. Our group is called the Cookie Day Girls. I don't usually describe myself as a "girl," but it fits for this group. Sometimes I'll call us the "Cookie Day Friends" or the "Cookie Day group," but we're really the "Cookie Day Girls."

Cookie Day started back at Christmas 1980. There were four of us: Val, Becky, Sandy and me. We were all a few years out of college or grad school and we were all working at Union Carbide, living in the Knoxville area. None of us had family here, and somehow we all connected early in 1980. Initially we were all single, though I think Sandy was actually a newlywed at the time of the first Cookie Day. That first year we got together at my apartment a week or two before Christmas to bake cookies, drink too much wine, and talk about life.

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The First Cookie Day: Kathy, Valerie and Becky

28 years later we are still getting together for Cookie Day and a couple of times during the year too. In some ways this is a group that is as close as family, even though we may not see each other as a group all that much.

In the mid 1980's the group expanded to include Mary and another Kathy. Mary moved to Texas a few years later, but we've taken Cookie Day to Texas twice and she's come here several times too. In 1990 Jeanne joined our group. The rest of us are all within 15 months of age (most were born in 1955), but Jeanne is about 15 years older. She is very very special in our group.

We have seen each other through so many life changes. In the beginning we were in our mid 20's and single, dealing with dating and love affairs. We've been together for weddings and the birth of children, the purchase of our homes. We've held hands through disappointments in love and a few divorces. One friend got remarried and then divorced again. Only three of the seven of us still have our original husbands. One friend wasn't able to have the child she wanted so much. Five of us have one child, and Mary has three. Some have stepchildren too. There have been a few health issues, financial struggles, and job changes, though four of the seven will spend their whole careers at the plants in Oak Ridge. I quit my job and went to Europe for a year. Several have experienced the deaths of parents, one just two weeks ago. One friend also had the very unexpected loss of a significant other. We've had many moments of happiness, travel, and now also the marriage of children and the possibility of grandchildren. And one friend (my age!) just retired. Now she is going to go live with her boyfriend on a boat. You see each other through a lot in 28 years.

For Cookie Day 2007 we went away for a weekend and rented a big house in Blowing Rock, NC. We made a gingerbread house instead of baking cookies.

This past Christmas we got together at Sandy's house on a Friday afternoon for Cookie Day. Mary was here as a surprise for Val's retirement, and I put together a slide show with music in honor of Val. Most of us spent the night. We do still drink wine (though not as much as we once did) and we still bake some cookies (though not as many as we once did). We always exchange gifts, the same gift for each person, this year a $10 per person max. If you visit any of our houses, you'll find the same Cookie Day gifts from the years in various places.

We always take photos and we love to reminise. We appreciate these friendships so much these days. Somehow I've ended up to be the "historian," so I'll share a few more photos from over the years.

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Cookie Day 1987

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Cookie Day 1993. The baby is Kelly. Mary came and gave us all special Cookie Day aprons.

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Cookie Day 2000

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Cookie Day 2006 at my house. Mary came and gave us all these crazy Santa hats. Notice that most of us are still wearing the aprons from 1993.

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Cookie Day 2008. Mary came and gave us all these sweaters. She swears she got them at an outlet store, had a coupon and only paid $10 a person.

I can't imagine ever not having Cookie Day or these special friends in my life. It's about so much more than the cookies.


February 20, 2009

My Love of European Travel: Where It All Began

I was born in Munich, Germany.

Okay, I'm not really German and I speak only a little tourist German, but I've always loved saying that I was born in Germany. My young parents were American and I was born in a US Army hospital. My dad was a soldier in the US Army, stationed about 35 miles southeast of Munich. He was just 22 when I was born, and he and my mom (only 20) had been married almost two years. They had eloped just a few weeks after they met, much to my mother's parents horror.

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My young parents before I was born

Not long after they were married, my dad was shipped overseas. My mom moved back with her parents for several months and worked to earn money to join Dad in Germany. They lived off-base in the village of Bad Aibling, about halfway between Munich and Salzburg. They didn't have any money really at all and rented a small apartment in a German woman's house. Instead of a crib, I slept in a wicker laundry basket.

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Their best souvenir from living in Germany-- me!

My mother's father was a manager with Shell Oil. During the time my parents were living in Bad Aibling, before I was born, my grandfather also had a European job assignment, and he and my grandmother spent about six months in Amsterdam. My grandparents met up with my parents several times and took them around Bavaria and to Paris and Venice, maybe other places too. I think my grandparents paid all the bills, because otherwise it would have been very difficult to my parents to see much of Europe.

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My parents in Venice. Notice my mom's maternity top-- this was my first visit to Venice too!

I don't have any memories of living in Germany because we moved to the USA before my first birthday. But I do have special memories of growing up in a house with parents whose lives and view of the world were shaped by those two years they lived in Europe. We learned German drinking songs, and our house was decorated with hummels and beer steins and some nice artwork my parents brought back. Every few months my dad would set up the slide projector and we would look at their slides of their travels, pictures of Paris and Neuschwanstein Castle, of the village of Bad Aibling, my young mother and father in Salt Miners clothes, baby me in the laundry basket. Later-- from when I was 8 until almost 13-- we had the opportunity to live in Melbourne, Australia because of my dad's work. (That's a good subject for another post.) I remember our four years in Australia well, and it's a big part of why I wanted to spend the extended time in Europe at a similar time in Kelly's life.

Because of my German birth and my parents experiences living in Europe, my dreams of going to Europe began when I was very young. It took me 35 years to finally get back, but once I had the chance to experience Europe, the burning ember turned into a flame!

I've always felt a strong connection to Munich, Salzburg and the Bavarian Alps. This area is so incredibly beautiful and there's a liveliness we enjoy too. But I know my connection is also related to my personal history. It's special to know that this is the area where I was born and this was where my parents lived in their early years of marriage. They have now been married 55 years and have traveled all over the world.

I've been to Munich five times as an adult, though I've never tried to find that Army hospital where I was born. I've stopped in at Bad Aibling three times over the years, to see the place where I lived when I was a baby, to show it to Charley and Kelly. My parents went back to Bad Aibling several years ago, and they said the house where they lived isn't there any more. The Bad Aibling station, the intelligence center for the National Security Agency where my dad was stationed, closed in 2004.

Today Bad Aibling is a pretty town of about 18,000 people. There's an ornate church with an onion-domed spire, painted buildings, and a "little Venice" area (called "Klein Venedig") where a river runs through the town. It's not a major destination for American tourists (except perhaps for people who were stationed at the base over some 50 years), but it is known for its spas, mineral baths and "peat pulp" baths. ("Bad" means "bath.") We've never stayed in Bad Aibling overnight, but sometime we should do this and experience a peat pulp bath!

Here are some photos from our last visit to Bad Aibling in 2005.

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February 21, 2009

My Childhood Things

I happened to see a little item on my AOL homepage today, noting that this is the 50th anniversary of Barbie. There was a link to this slide show that showed Barbie's fashion evolution over the years (69 slides), which brought back some great memories.

When I was growing up, kids didn't seem to have as much-- at least not in my family or the kids I knew. My sister, brother and I got a few presents at Christmas and our birthdays and saved our allowance and occasional small monetary gifts from grandparents to buy something special at other times of year. Our parents didn't buy us "stuff" throughout the year like many parents (okay... me) do now. We also relied much more on "toys" instead of television, videos, computers and electronic games for entertainment. I think we stayed kids much longer than kids do today.

Here are some of my favorite childhood possessions:

1) Barbie dolls. I must have gotten my first Barbie doll (and a Ken too) a few years after they came out, perhaps when I was about six or seven. They were a Christmas gift from my grandparents. Over the years my sister and I ended up with about 11 different dolls in the Barbie family. I think we had two Barbies (one blonde, one brunette), Ken, Midge, Allen, Skipper, Scooter, Francine. Was there maybe a Ricky? (a boy that went with Skipper and Scooter?) And some little kids, perhaps Tutti and Todd? I had an old Barbie dream house (complete with a hi-fi system and record albums) and a simplee car. I played with my Barbie dolls all the time, until I was maybe 12 years old. In the slide show link above, I know I had that red velvety coat and maybe the slinky nightclub singer outfit too.

2. Chatty Cathy. This was a gift from my grandparents too. I wanted this doll because her name was Cathy, even though she spelled it the "wrong" way. You pulled a thing in the back of her neck and she said some simple phrases, maybe 10 different things. My Cathy had blonde hair.

3. My stuffed bear Barli. This was a baby present, given to me as a baby in Germany by the German landlady I think. I didn't have lots of stuffed animals like most kids do today-- I think just this one bear. I slept with him for a long time and he traveled to and from Australia with me. Our family dog chewed off part of his lip when I was a teenager, but my mother fixed him. I saved him into adulthood, and when I had my own daughter, this was one of the childhood treasures that I passed onto her. Kelly has had lots and lots of stuffed animals, but this is the one she has kept with her in bed and treasures the most. This means a lot to me.

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Beloved Barli-- not bad after 53 years of love!

4. Paper Dolls. I loved playing with paper dolls, and my mom enjoyed playing paper dolls with me too. When I was about nine or ten she gave me a set of historical paper dolls from the Civil War era. The next year I got a larger set of Colonial Paper Dolls. I loved the elaborate costumes and spent hours putting clothes on and off and imagining conversations and stories. I liked the historical aspect a lot. I still have these paper dolls, though Kelly never took an interest in them.

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My old paper dolls

5. Books. I was a huge reader as a girl and loved getting books as gifts. My mom was a reader too (as is Kelly), and she gave me some of her childhood books, which I still have. I kept all these books for Kelly, and they're in bookcases still in our house. She has read a few but quickly moved onto books like Harry Potter instead. I liked a lot of series: Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Pollyanna (a series from my mom that I loved), the Five Little Peppers (another from my Mom), What Katy Did; Betsy, Tacy and Tib... so many!

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Part of my Bobbsey Twins collection

6. Board Games. Our family played a lot of board games. Some that we especially enjoyed were Monopoly, Life, Park & Shop, Go to the Head of the Class. I played the game of Life a lot by myself. I liked seeing what job you got and how much money you could collect.

7. Tinker Toys. These were fun and our whole family enjoyed sitting on the floor and constructing the more complicated things like the ferris wheel. I liked these much more than Lincoln Logs.

8. Crayons and Coloring Books. We had a set of 64 crayons and quite a few coloring books. My mom liked to color with us too. She and I made a lot of clothes for another set of paper dolls.

9. Roller skates. I had the kind of roller skates that fixed to your heavy shoes using a key. We lived on a dead end street and really enjoyed skating.

10. Dress-ups. My mom gave us her old clothes (including hats and costume jewelry), and my sister and I used to love to play dress up. We would make up elaborate games and play for hours, often involving our younger brother (and sometimes dressing him up too). When we were a little older, I wrote plays and involved other neighborhood kids in putting on performance for our parents.

It didn't take much to have fun back then. I have really good memories of my childhood and of our family growing up.

February 22, 2009

The Evening Bag

I've been enjoying my "nostalgia" posts, and I have another story tonight.

A few weeks ago Kelly went to her first big dance-- the winter semi-formal at her school. She didn't have a date and went with a group of friends. It was a big deal with a new dress and shoes and makeup for the first time. The dance was at a country club, and she and her friends went to a French restaurant for dinner before the dance.

Kelly decided to wear gold shoes, so this seemed the time to pass on my mother's gold evening bag to the next generation. I brought the bag out to show Kelly a few days before the dance and told her the story of the bag.

Although my mother was only 18 when she married my dad, she had actually been engaged to another boy at the time she met my dad. My mom's family lived on Long Island, and Johnny was was a rich boy who (I think) went to Williams. The evening bag had been a gift from Johnny. My mom broke off the engagement and married my dad instead, but in those early years my dad was always very sensitive to any mention of Johnny. My mom gave the gold evening bag to her mother for safekeeping.

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My mom at about the age she received the evening bag


I might have been about eight years old, and one day a package arrived for my mom from my grandmother. In the box were two evening bags, one of which was the beautiful gold bag. Somehow, even at that age, I knew a bit about the old boyfriend Johnny, and my mother confided in me that the bag had been a gift from Johnny. She told me not to say anything to Dad.

What in the world was I thinking? When my dad came home from work, I went running outside to greet him. "Dad, Dad! Mom got a package with an evening bag, and it was an old present from Johnny!"

After that we lived in Australia for four years, and our life was much more glamorous than it was Laurel, Maryland. My dad was attached to the US Consulate in Melbourne, and my parents went to many big parties, my mom in a long evening gown or cocktail dress and my dad in a tuxedo or white dinner jacket. Mom often carried the little gold evening bag, though my dad didn't really like it and we never mentioned the name of Johnny.

After we returned to the USA, the days of fancy parties and evening clothes came to an end. My mom returned to her life as a suburban housewife, and the gold evening bag stayed in her dresser drawer. Some years later, after I had graduated from college, she gave me the bag. I carried it a couple of times to special parties and dances, but it's been a while since I've gotten really dressed up too. The bag has been sitting in my closet for several years, waiting for its next owner. The bag must be at least 56 years old.

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Our Evening Bag

I wasn't sure how Kelly would respond to the bag. She isn't always interested in things I offer to lend her... my taste may be too conventional or from another time. But I told her the story of the bag and talked about how vintage bags are now very popular. Kelly got on the internet and found that yes, they are quite in demand and valuable too. She proudly carried the bag to her first winter semi-formal, though unfortunately I don't have a photo of her with it. I'm sure there will be a next time-- and hopefully future generations too.

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Our beautiful daughter headed to her first big dance

The evening bag is a Whiting and Davis bag, very much like this one being sold on E-Bay for $185, just without the little change purse.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Trail's Our Thing in the Nostalgia category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Normandy and Burgundy is the previous category.

Our Lives at Home is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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