Thursday, January 12, 2017

Death, Illness, and Politics

Recently a neighbor of mine succumbed to cancer. Debbie was a friend I met through Misty Morning Walkers. Sadly, her cancer diagnosis came as a result of tests she had after she stumbled during one of those walks. While I wasn't with the group that morning, many were, and the group went into high gear once we knew our friend was sick. I have said before that if someone in Arden happens to post on Facebook that they have the sniffles, they will have a container of soup or a hot toddy or muffins delivered to their doorstep within the hour. With the news of cancer, a lone soup delivery person becomes a battalion of neighbors and a sea of plastic containers to return (that are then refilled in perpetuity).

At the last Dinner Gild dinner, one of the Misty Morning crew reflected on the occurrence of cancer in our village which she was afraid was higher than average.  I told her that I didn't know if it was high or if, in the Ardens, we are constantly in contact with our neighbors so that it seems as if we are confronted with illnesses more directly. We get updates in real time, and not just because of social media, but because we talk, we visit, we sit on committees and go to activities with the spouse, parents, children, best friend, next door neighbor of the person who is sick. Neither is the patient herself hidden away in this community.  During Debbie's illness, we saw her on walks when she was up to it, at Saturday night dinners, at cultural events. We had a group hug and prayer with her at Women in the Woods when she herself told us that the prognosis did not look good.

What does this have to do with politics? Everything. Over the past six months, I have been working with my friend Keri to get a labyrinth built on the Green in the town of Arden. We have gone to committee meetings, worked on proposals, raised money, and presented at town meeting. We have had to answer to those who objected to our plans and rally our supporters. I am currently serving on the Forest Committee after having been voted into the position. Mark is serving in a similar capacity on the Budget Committee and is up for election for the Board of Assessors. After only living here for two years, we are enmeshed in the politics of this town on a personal level. The thing about politics here is that the we are electing our neighbors, not some slick face we saw on a poster.  The nitty-gritty work of the villages is done by volunteers. We have disagreements, but in the end, we have to live beside those with whom we disagree. And just because we lack accord on one issue, doesn't mean that we won't be in agreement on the next question that is put to the town. This is the complexity of passionate village life. Fiercely going head-to-head, debating minute points of order as well as larger issues, then turning around and sitting beside your detractor at dinner or working beside them at the children's games at the Arden Fair. We don't get to have the faceless debates that  erupt on social media. 

We are a village. We are doing the deep work of community. We love. We argue. We tend. We mourn.    (A lot of this also involves the cooking and eating of food.) Before the town meeting where we had our final vote on the Labyrinth project, Keri and I made a temporary labyrinth on the proposed site of our permanent installation. Originally we were going to stand there and answer questions, but instead we decided to allow people to simply walk the path we had designated and to have their own experiences. It was days after our friend Debbie's death, and we wanted those who knew Debbie to have the opportunity to walk the labyrinth in her memory. Later that evening, our motion passed. The vote capped off what, for us, was a week of high tension and emotion. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading

The last day at the Arden pool was a beautiful day. More people than I have seen all summer congregated in the little hollow where the temperature is about ten degrees cooler than it is even in the pool's parking lot. Still the sun is hot and only a mad, humming soda machine stands to promise any kind of bought refreshment. Arden swimmers know to bring in their own water and watermelon. No snack bar here.

This last day is a weird one. We are all Fair Hungover. I don't mean the alcohol kind, but that is part of it for some of us. Lots of people in town worked so hard to get the pieces into place, often at the expense of sleep. Two days later we are the walking wounded. And too, we are the walking exhilarated. The 108th fair is in the books, and it was a glorious success.

At the pool's edge I am trying desperately to finish reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I have never read it and found the slim paperback when I was sorting through my bookshelf looking for volumes to sell at the Arden Fair Book sale. Now or never, I thought. I have been carrying this book around with me for far too long and hoped to make it my final tick mark in my quest for a book-a-week this summer. Kind of. My goal was fourteen books from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I did not finish the Bell Jar. Too many distractions at the pool on the last day--a memorial service for one. Above the pool, on the deck that wraps around the Gild Hall, well-dressed Ardenites stood watch over the mer-people.

They were saying goodbye to Chuck Conner, an Arden giant who, among other prominent roles, was the booming voice announcing all activities at the Fair for over 40 years.  Chuck and his wife Phyllis lived in a home and gardens they designed in Ardencroft on the edge of Sherwood Forest for over 50 years before they finally moved to assisted living around the same time we moved to Arden. I met Phyllis recently in July. But though I never met Chuck,  I feel an affinity with the family. We have a connection: They used to live in our house in the late 50's early 60's. And so, reading becomes tedious as I feel my energy pulled toward the full house--those throngs come to support the Conner family. I've witnessed the parade of people entering the hot hall and I know many of them.

And so, my summer reading goal is cut short by my inability to separate from real life. It is a condition I know all too well and the reason I made the summer reading pledge in the first place. Why have I had such a difficult time keeping my attention on my reading these last few years? I think I have finally figured it out. For years, I blamed social media for shortening my attention span to short clips. But this summer, I realized that isn't the case--at least not entirely. When I space out and take my focus away from my book it is because I am massaging the words in my mind. Often they are a springboard that makes me want to dive into my own work. Like seeing paintings in a museum or gallery and rushing home to pick up the paint brush. That is what it feels like. I start exploring and figuring out the stories I am working on. Even when I don't have a book in current work, I get ideas for new stories or new ways to develop characters. I am not a great analyzer of fiction--at least not consciously. I can't tell you what literary devices authors are employing to tell their stories. I can't even usually remember what I have read. It's really embarrassing. As an author I live in fear someone is going to ask me my influences or ask me my favorite book quote. I sincerely don't know.

In spite of my handicaps, I have managed to complete the following books. Some of them are physical books which are best for the hot sun and the pool. Some I read on my iPad. Some were audio books which helped me also get some summer walking miles in. Even in those listening experiences I got distracted often and needed to rewind and play parts over again. Since my goal was finishing books, I didn't put too much pressure on myself to choose anything other than books that caught my fancy, but I think it is pretty diverse little collection of titles. The list includes non-fiction as well as fiction, half by men and half by women, a memoir, some historical fiction, more than one time-travel book, and even a book narrated by a dog.

1. Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
2.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (This led to a clothing purge and a book purge which brought me to my Bell Jar challenge.)
3. Unhappenings by Edward Aubry (a friend of mine who took a writing retreat in Arden)
4. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
5. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
6. The Storyteller  by Jodi Picoult
7. Bathing the Lion  by Jonathan Carroll
8. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
9. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
10. The Grace That Keeps the World by Tom Bailey
11. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
12. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
13. Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist by Ariela Bankier

And now onto a new goal of as many books by the end of the year. Life will dot my reading experiences as it does my writing. That's okay. It's how it should be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walking the Labyrinth: A Heroine's Journey

Just as I found out I was pregnant at age 27 with our second child, I landed myself in a group of magical women (and several highly evolved men) at our church. We had joined the UU Church of Lancaster when I was pregnant with our first child for the sake of raising our kids within a faith tradition, but little did I know that I would be the one reaping the benefits. I was taking some courses and  doing some discovery work with the divine feminine-- which is a very empowering subject to undertake while pregnant. I should have guessed that I was incubating a girl child, the first in many generations on my husband's side. All of a sudden I had sacred chants and totems to guide me through. The women I met through my studies were real guides in that they modeled Goddess light for me. In a society that is still patriarchal in nature, it was truly eye-opening and a major point on my personal path. If you have studied the Heroine's Journey (the feminist response to Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey), this would be the part where I met my allies: both human and supernatural.

Image of a seven-circuit labyrinth at night
One of these allies is Sarah Preston. She, along with many of the others I met, got together for the purpose of making a labyrinth for the church. I had not experienced labyrinths before, and I did not join the efforts of this group even though it included many of my new friends. I was thirty minutes from our church home with two small children, a full-time job, and a husband who travelled with his job. I do remember being excited about what they were doing and couldn't wait until their big project was unveiled. In the meantime, I bought some books on labyrinths to understand more. Labyrinths are unicursal paths (one way in and one way out) that are used in many cultures and religions (independently of one another) as a walking meditation. Labyrinths can be found in French cathedrals, Native American cultures, Scandinavian countries etc. Many incorporate sacred geometry into their design. For instance, a classic labyrinth has 7 circuits which correspond to musical notes on a scale, major chakras in the body, colors of the rainbow. Finally, the canvas labyrinth, a painted replica of the 12-circuit one in Chartres Cathedral was finished and open for walks. I took my mom to one of the early open walks. She was hooked as well. It became a catalyst for many outings together.

From then on, I looked for more labyrinths to walk. If I had to guess, I'd say I've walked well over 50 different labyrinths in about a dozen different states. Sarah Preston had a herb labyrinth in her back yard. From that labyrinth, she started her business Herbs From the Labyrinth in which she used the herbs to make lotions, salves, and other products, most of which had healing properties. Sarah is a healer.  (You can read about her here.) Her knowledge of the body and natural cures is extensive, and I've consulted her on many issues. While I lived in Lancaster County, I taught monthly journal writing classes in her shop and even co-convened a couple all-day chakra workshops directly from her garden labyrinth in conjunction with a local kundalini yoga teacher. 

Fast forward fifteen years. When the time came that Mark and I knew we had to move out of Lancaster County, I went on a writing retreat to Omega Institute in October of 2012. We didn't know where we were going to move, and I was pretty apprehensive about the mystery of our future, but every day I was at Omega, I walked the labyrinth on the grounds. I got still with myself as I walked the circuits, and let them do their magic. I didn't force it, but in the calm stillness I had glimpses of what I wanted my new life to include. By early December 2012, Mark and I were ready to call our realtor friend Cynthia to let her know of our decision to move to Arden, DE.

Art Map Poster of the Ardens with watermark
The night we saw our house the first time (we had signed an agreement before actually seeing it) and met the previous owners, we sat around the dining room table toasting with champagne and eating chocolate chip cookies. We discovered that the del Tufos were UU's also and that Keri was also raised in Lancaster County. That night, I told the group that Arden needs a labyrinth. I truly believed that walking the Omega labyrinth had directed me to live in this place. Keri loved the idea and enthusiastically agreed to help bring it into being. From that cold spring day in 2013, we allowed the idea to percolate. In June of this year we brought our plans of an Arden Labyrinth to the village meeting (to be voted upon in September).

I write this blog today because of two very exciting things that will happen at the Arden Fair on September 5th. The first is that I will be selling art maps that I designed for $20. All proceeds from these maps will help to fund the labyrinth project. Keri and I will be selling them out of Linda Toman's ceramics booth overlooking the Moonlight Theater. But I am also really excited to announce that Sarah Preston is coming to the Arden Fair as a vendor in the Peddlers, Potions, and Practitioners Marketplace at the Buzz Ware Community Center. She will have her full line of herbal products including bug repellent, lotions, baskets, etc. If she brings a tenth of the selection she has in Radiance, her Lancaster Shop, Arden is in for a treat. I hope that people will stop and say hello and make her journey worthwhile so that she will come again and again. 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for our life's journey as it bends on itself and repeats themes, circling in on answers, asking more questions in the process. I am hopeful about the prospects of building a labyrinth here, especially since the energy seems to be bubbling in that direction. And while we have not reached our goal yet, I am thankful for my many mentors and guides and who have bought me to this place at this time in my life. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Days and the Arden Pool

We are in the last days of August. Summer's swan song. This is simultaneaously a slowing down and a speeding up. People are readying for the fair and getting ready to go to school; I have written about that.  But it is the sense that we are in deep season that has us all in a focus. Those people who like spending days at the beach are making it a priority to spend as much time possible down there. We are close enough that the beach can be a day trip. What August means for me is that I am trying to can or freeze some of the summer's bounty so we can remember the heat in the form of spicy salsa or the sun in the form of creamed corn. And then we have the Arden Pool. The membersip has been slipping in recent years. It is expensive to belong to the pool here. $450 for a family of four when I had paid more like $150 to belong to a pool in Lancaster County. Even at $150, I had to weigh how many times I would have to go to make it worth my while. In Arden, I don't even come close to breaking even, but in the last days of August, I am making a valiant stab at giving our pool memeberships some worth. Instead of saying I came to the pool five times, I am hoping to make it ten. I bring my books in order to meet another self-imposed goal, that of reading a book a week over the summer. But the pool in August is no time to be reading. We women have some serious gabbing to do. We are passing pie cookbooks back and forth, readying to enter the fair pie contests. We look through the glossy pages as if we are going to make something other than our tried and true tarts. Dale will make peach raspberry, and I will look to my roots with a Pennsylvania Dutch lemon sponge pie. Neither of us has dreams of winning.

Diane comes around with raffle tickets to win passes for two to the pool next year. Nobody has any money on them. The pool doesn't have a snack bar. Why bring money? But this is a great part in the story to introduce Diane. She is one of the first people I met in Arden, though she won't recall it. We used to come to the pool when we visited Arden on the weekends. Diane was at the pool. Diane is always at the pool. She was sitting with her daughter, both of them sporting outrageous tans and matching tattoos and talking about wanting to move to Hawaii. I was sitting on the next lounger over trying to figure out how I could move to Arden, and here she was, planning to exit to the South Pacific. Let me tell you a bit of the legend of Diane. She was a very early bonded member of the pool. Even though she didn't live in Arden, she begged her husband to let her join the Arden pool.  He acquiesced because she promised to sell her motorcycle to get the money to join. Diane was pregnant at the time, and George said yes to get her off the motorcycle. Diane spent all her time at the Arden Pool and just about gave birth there. These days, when she is not at the beach, she is stationed on a lounger in the back of the pool near the sheds. If she has her chair somewhere else, it means some sort of insect alert is in order along the back fence. Note to self: Always see where Diane is perched before you put your towel down.

Diane comes as soon as the pool opens to swim her laps---equalling a mile--as she prays. She isn't the only one. The pool water is imbued with many prayers said during many laps, I have discovered. Although, I don't spend much time in the water even when I go to the pool (If I were a tea bag, I wouldn't even be in long enough to give the water a good steep.), but I do make a point of getting my head under at least once, so I can get my dose of the wonderful ions these praying mermaids are infusing into the water.

On dry land, between dips, Diane reads her summer away. I never see the same book in her hand twice. She reads lofty books and pedestrian ones; her tastes run the gamut. I love talking to Daine about books because she is so passionate and so well-read. She makes the writer in me blush at the holes in my own reading list.

But the pool is a judgment-free zone. The women I have come to sit with at summer's end are here in spite of bodies that aren't always what we would like them to be. Kerry is here in a bikini that she bought after a summer of cancer treatments. She has a very different outlook on her body than in summers past. The poetry she has written about her journey has stunned me with its raw honesty and superb imagery. Kerry's mother, Dale and I lament that we have to knock off the sugar and simple carbs even as we pass the pie books bewteen us. Even Keren, the petite yoga teacher, is on the mend after a debilitating concussion this past year. Mary shows us her latest tattoo and tells us of her wedding plans. She is marrying the town Santa Claus. She asks to borrow some sunscreen, because Santa aka Ricardo aka Richard is getting burnt. I pass some to her and put some on my own reddening thighs. These bodies have supplied us with so much real life work that we don't have the energy for self-consciousness at the pool. We are here. We are marking the season, and letting the sun brand us as its daughters. Sharing our stories and recipies and prayers and books and sunscreen and light, storing all these things for whatever may come our way in the colder months.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preparing for the Fair

It is late August. Hopeful, summer-hyped parents are posting photos on Instagram and Facebook of bright, shiny back-to-school grins. Hair is parted and smoothed in extraordinary care. Even picture day at school won't compete with this coiffed perfection. In addition, I've seen photos of what appears to be the same freshman college dorm room decked out in variations on a theme. Bright batik wallhangings, furry pillows that have to replace the cuddles of the beloved pets left behind, and edgy posters that are the hallmark of first impressions--except that these kids have already gotten those nasty first impressions out of the way through social media. With last week's cool spell, it seems everyone is moving forward to fall.

And so, with the Arden Fair approaching--that definitive slash that knocks the crown off Summer's head--I am letting go of Arden as a camp experience. I am going into my third Arden Fair, and as I do, it feels as though I am beginning my junior year at Arden University. But first--the Fair. It was the one thing we hadn't experienced prior to moving to Arden. I had done to other fairs. The Ephrata Fair (Longest Street Fair in PA) and the Mount Gretna Arts Festival. Even the Denver Fair which covers the area at a local park.

Arden Fair has a different vibe. First of all, it is only one day--not a whole week or weekend. In twenty-four hours it is like the whole thing never existed. The fair started back when Arden was a summer community as a way for artists to sell off their wares before they returned to winter over in the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia. This is the 108th Arden Fair. Only in Arden would someone point out that this is a mystical number--the same number as beads on a mala. Meditate on that! If I had known that little tidbit, I would have submitted a T-shirt design based on the exultation of that number. I had the winning design for the fair T-shirt last year. (Pretty good for an incoming sophomore.)  The other thing that makes Arden's fair unique is the homemade nature of it all. This is not some slick traveling carny show. Right now the town is busy sorting donated books for a book sale, practicing making pies for the pie contest, sewing homemade banners to festoon the main avenue. Jennifer Curly has finished recruiting folks to person the children's games. Toby Ridings is running the tenth annual Peddlers, Potions, and Practitioner's Holistic Marketplace in the Buzz Ware Village Center. People don't realize what her decade of contributions have meant in terms of maintaining our community building. Buzz Ware better beware, because she is making the case for some sort of annex named after her.  Jan Rudzinski will make iced coffee. I wish I could list all the volunteers, because the list is staggering. The Arden Club keep tabs. The list contains over 300 names, which is an amazingly high percentage of the adult population of the Ardens. A percentage of involvement you'd be hard pressed to duplicate in any other community in this country.

My husband's job for set-up (and he takes a day off work for this) is to climb ladders to hang garland. I know why he volunteered to do it, but I cannot watch. His dad fell off a ladder two years ago, and I have a vivid imagination. Last year, I was in charge helping the featured artist set up and attend to the gallery art show (one of the only air-conditioned spots in town). This year, I am going to be at Linda Toman's ceramics booth selling art maps I designed as a fundraiser to get a labyrinth built in the Ardens. Linda is also the Grand Poobah of banner making. Just when I think the flags around town have reached saturation levels and she can take a breather, she finds a way to bring more embellishment. That's when I realize that I am the only person to have set silly limitations. You cannot have too much color. The banners and flags are spectacular, one-of-a-kind and definitely not of the variety you can order from a catalog.

Linda's husband Pat is running the show this year. A gentle but assertive leader; he is a good one to undertake the task. The first year we helped to set up, we were given a lunch of pizza and a dinner of fried chicken and potato salad. Somehow the fried chicken got axed. I may have to petition Pat to bring it back. I am like Pavlov's dog. After one fair set-up, I associate hanging banners and setting up booths with fried chicken. If they don't serve it, I will have to run out and get it anyway.  I'd be willing to sacrifice the pizza if necessary. Even I know it isn't about the chicken. We contribute because the fair brings money into the Arden Club which provides most of the programming and events in the Ardens, from our pool and lectures, to our concerts and dinners. It is a huge undertaking, but the money generated is worth it. If ever there was a team-building exercise or, in this case, town-building, it is this. Look what we can do when we all work together.

I cannot begin to describe all that happens at the fair. Concerts, German beer garden (Edmond Bischoff's Brats and German potato salad are my favorite fair foods), Antique show, kids' rides and games, artisan wares, book sale, plant sale.  Check out the Arden Club webpage to find out more. And come. It is always the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend which is September 5th, this year. 10AM-6PM. Let us show off our villages in the best possible way. You can't miss us. Just look for trees and flags.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Red Threads

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break." 
--An ancient Chinese belief

I just had a notification from my Time Hop App that talked of a pizza party Mark and I attended six years ago at our friends, Cynthia and David's house. We didn't realize then that we were less than four years away from living in Arden. Cynthia and David invited us and two other couples for pizza making. We were encouraged to bring toppings. I brought homemade goat cheese, homemade barbecue sauce, and caramelized red onions. And it was at this party that we met Joe and Keri del Tufo. We hit it off immediately because, among other things, we both had daughters the same age. It was a lovely evening in the barn for all--except maybe poor David who was doing the dance of grilling the pizzas. Our topping-heaving approach (because everything sounded so good) was at odds with what he knew of how to grill pizzas. But we were buzzed on wine and summer and interesting conversation. One such conversation included Joe and Keri telling us how they how to downsize belongings to move into their enchanted little cottage. "You need to see this house," Cynthia, ever the realtor, told us. Little did we or the del Tufos know she would be selling it to us in a few years. Little did I know that Keri had an aversion to both goat cheese and onions.

Fast forward six years on that same date and we found that those same people were around our tables on our front patio of the aforementioned enchanted cottage. Add a few more couples. It was an impromptu gathering that we called happy hour but just meant that we would have grazing foods and not something that typified a meal. Corn and artichoke stuffed jalapeños, Sweet heat turkey meatballs, bruschetta, homemade salsa and chips, cucumber salad, fruit salad, venison bologna, and several growlers of beer that Mark had purchased that afternoon from Tired Hands Brewery near where he works. The bottles of rosé people had brought were largely untouched.

The next night, Mark and I felt a little bored after our impromptu party, but could think of nothing to do. We decided we would grill some salmon and drink the rosé and get a little snockered on wine and fireflies. (We don't really have many fireflies, but Mark lit several torches and lanterns). After we had eaten, we were sitting with our wine when we noticed a couple who had ridden bikes down our road. The road ends at our house where it enters the woods. It was twilight, and it seemed as through the man and woman were considering whether to continue on into the forest.  They turned and saw us. We waved and walked over to them with our glasses of wine in hand. I recognized Mhairi (pronounced Mary). She had been sewing fair banners in the Gild Hall when I stopped in on some business the day before.  She introduced her husband Stuart. The two of them, along with their daughter Lindsay had just moved to Arden a few weeks earlier. Originally from Scotland, but having been in this country many years, they came to Delaware the way many people do--because of a job with DuPont. We invited them to share our rosé abundance. They stayed almost two hours, and it was as though we had a hole in our schedules (and extra rosé) just for this purpose.  Being that Mhairi and Stuart are aspiring chocolatiers,  I brought out Wilbur Buds from our native Lititz. This surprised Mark. He didn't realize we had a stash in the house.

And it is like this that the red threads connect us in a way that feels both random and pre-destined. I think back to chance encounters I have had with people. Sometimes only once. The man on the airplane to New Orleans in 1998 who had such fear of flying that he was quaking but whose job, setting up self-checkouts at grocery stores (I had never heard of such a thing), meant that he had to fly several times a month. The woman I met while in the chair at the hair salon who became a fast friend. The two artist mamas I met online on a SARK message board but who embodied not only red threads but lifelines. And even meeting Mark. Such a thing necessitated that his parents move their family twice--from Michigan to Nebraska and from Nebraska to Pennsylvania-- and finally settle in a hometown that had been home to my family for generations. All for a job at Kellogg's.

Today, I don't want to think too much about why things happen the way they do. Thinking about it might wear away its magic. Instead, I think I'll just take a moment to be grateful for red threads, pink wine, grilled pizza, corn flakes, and chocolate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What the heck is a Silver Anniversary?

Twenty-five years ago today, we were married in a candlelight ceremony that started way too late in the evening. Do you have any idea what time it gets dark in August? It was a different age. George H.W. Bush was president, but we had yet to engage in the Gulf Wars. Mark was driving a black Chevy Celebrity, which I hated. It was so big and boxy. I was driving a hand-me-down 1976 Buick Skylark that had passed from my grandmother to my parents to me. I was grateful for the car and had no complaints. It had a radio and AC, even if it did leak oil. At the time we got married, Mark was newly employed as a computer operator at Alumax. I had just come off a stint as a teaching assistant at PA Governor's School of the Arts, but had no other prospects, just a brand new BFA in Fine Arts. In August of 1990, we didn't have the Internet or email or cell phones or GPS, and I had given half the guests directions to the church which included a wrong turn. We didn't even have DVDs. We went to the movies or we rented video tapes at independently owned video stores. (Blockbuster didn't come to our area until later.) The number one movie in theaters was Ghost, but Dances with Wolves took home the trophy at the Academy Awards that year. Rent for our first apartment, just off the square in Lititz, was $400 a month, which included heat, electric, water, and trash. The U.S.S.R was still intact. Marriage existed only between one man and one woman, which we were--barely. I was 21, and Mark was 22.

As a bride, I wore an off-the-shoulder, ivory gown with a wreath headdress that I thought was timeless, but seems so dated now as we look at the photos. I remember that I picked out Mark's ivory dinner jacket by watching the Soap Opera Awards earlier that year. On the day we were married I had a headache from some questionable blue-green cocktails I had consumed the night before. I ate a hangover breakfast at Burger King and had the first mani/pedi of my life. After a night of barhopping, Mark played golf with his buddies and, not yet having a wife to badger him about sunscreen, got a nice sunburn that showed up great against his ivory dinner jacket in the wedding photos. We registered at Boscov's for a bunch of stuff we no longer own, save our china. Not having many vacation days to play with, we took a short camping trip to Chincoteague, VA, immediately after our wedding, and a more substantial honeymoon trip to Cancun the following year. Our wedding ceremony took place in the Lutheran church of my childhood. We had no intention of keeping the ties with that church after our wedding, but we had yet to find our church home, so we settled for the church we knew. I didn't want my dad to walk me down the aisle, but our minister counseled that this particular ritual represented parents "letting go" which finally convinced me to keep the tradition. I have no idea how it was that Mark's parents "let go" of him.

And so it was when we entered married life. At the time, it meant that my parents could no longer institute a curfew, which they had upheld in the days leading up to our wedding, and that I could park my car on Main Street in Lititz overnight without it being a scandal. I have said before that I got married primarily to be taken seriously as an adult. Not that I didn't love Mark and want to spend my life with him, just that the rush to get married took care of a few other pesky details as well. It wasn't as if I was jumping from one caretaker to another. I considered myself a feminist with enough independent tendencies to stake out my own territories in life. Mark and I were not a fixed unit, but a voluntary union of individuals. I hyphenated my last name not understanding what a pain in the butt it is to have two last names. Today, I would counsel my younger self to just keep my last name and forget the add-on. That, perhaps, comes with its own hurdles, but at least I would know where to find my file at the doctor's office. In spite of our feminist outlook, Mark and I adopted very traditional roles in our marriage. I cooked and sewed. He maintained the cars and the toolbox. We each did our own laundry.

After twenty-five years, the world has changed, the nature of marriage has changed, and we have changed along with it. We have had five different addresses, fourteen different cars, more job titles than I can reasonably count, three dogs, and two kids. We've gone through three mattresses (a fourth is desperately needed), five grills, four lawnmowers and I'm guessing eight televisions--but Mark could tell you for sure. I think we only ever bought two new computers. The rest were put together Frankenstein-style from parts that Mark acquired or bought. The first refrigerator we ever owned is currently my brother's beer fridge. Our first baby's crib had been passed down and used by six children before it fell apart. (No babies were injured.) We have been to 33 different states and five countries together. And Puerto Rico. We have killed a lot of houseplants.

And through all this, I'm not sure I understand any more about marriage than I did when we went into it.  I know it takes flexibility and a commitment to continuing on the path together. You need love, but you don't need the the consistently blissful kind of love. Sometimes love is a verb--a really hard verb that falls somewhere in the category between digging ditches and operating on brain cells. This country is going through a change in what it defines as marriage, but it isn't really a new definition for us. Early in our marriage, we joined the Unitarian Universalist church which, for as long as we were members, performed union ceremonies between same-sex partners. A marriage contract is as much business contract as it is anything else. I believe in divorce. I also believe in what Goldy Hawn has said about her non-marriage to Kurt Russell. "What I do like about the fact that we're not married is that when I wake up in the morning I really do wake up fresh and re-born every day. I know that I could walk out at any moment but we chose to be together." Does marriage keep us from recommitting to our unions each and every day? I don't know. If I believe in divorce and non-marriage, can I really say I believe in marriage? I don't know.

What I do know after being married to Mark for twenty-five years: I love this man, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Some days more than others. I feel secure maneuvering through the world with him. He has my back, and I have his. I choose him every day. He tests me in every way possible. I am not always comfortable with that. I like who I am when I am with him most of the time. I know I have left parts of myself undeveloped or underdeveloped because he has certain skills and has always been a part of my adult life. I am not sure how I feel about that. I respect Mark as a parent. I am thankful that he was my partner through the main parenting years. (I realize we aren't quite finished yet--and may never be.) I know that we are great traveling partners. Is that a tell for the rest of it? I am glad to navigate this tricky, ever-changing world with someone who is so adept at change and dealing with challenges. If I had to break up the roles, I would say that I am the roots of the operation and he is the wings. And I know, we still have more to teach each other.

I don't think I will ever completely figure out what marriage is exactly or if we are doing it correctly. It's okay. We know how to file our taxes and click off the appropriate boxes when the world makes us declare ourselves. I can live with that. It isn't important what everyone else thinks marriage should or should not be. It only matters that we have agreed to walk this path together and will do so for the foreseeable future. And this silver anniversary thing? Silver: a shiny metal that give me a good excuse to reflect back over many years.