Is there a perfect beige?

      "I can't believe I'm a snowbird!!"  I declared, the truth hitting me for the first time as Admiral and I headed north on I-95 in mid-April headed home from Florida. For years I've laughed at snow birds clogging the major corridor through Richmond, southbound in winter, northbound in spring.  It was grand to be one.
      Honeymoon # 3 was a memory. Taking seriously and excitedly Admiral's request to make his house our home, selecting colors was the first place to start and the biggest roadblock.  Beige, accented with maroon, was all over his house. And they are so not my colors.
      As I pondered what to do, the perfect person, a colorist, showed up. That's right, a colorist - for homes and businesses, no less.  Never hearing of a colorist, I was intrigued. The more I talked to her about her work, I knew she was the professional to help 'color up' Admiral's oh-so-safe-and-monotone house.  Skillfully she found the perfect colors for the main rooms and the best painter to make it happen. 
     Admiral expressed his skepticism with "This looks mighty bright." "Is that the color I picked?"  "Is this really going to work?" 
      Meanwhile my condo was getting the reverse treatment.  I agonized about the best beige (sounds dumb, doesn't it!)  to cover my cheery hot pink,  yellow and green walls.   Friends - don't stew over the perfect beige as there is no such color.
      Of course, before the first brush touched anything, cleaning out and moving my stuff was all consuming.  "Who put all this stuff in here? Where did it come from? What was I thinking? Will I need this again? This place isn't big enough to hold all this stuff.  Honeymoon to Nantucket can't come soon enough." were some thoughts. Days were filled with numerous trips to the trash can and Salvation Army for junque and Admiral's house for my treasures.  Basic furniture would stay in my condo as it was going to be rented furnished so I didn't have to store excess furniture. 
      Neighbors popped in saying "You're really going to do this, aren't you!  You've been here a long time.  Can't believe you were dating and I didn't know it. When can we meet this guy?" They quickly scattered at requests to help lift boxes.  
      For nineteen years my condo had been my haven, my safe place where I recovered from divorce. Now it was a launching pad to a new life.  I was ready and excited for life's grand adventure with Admiral.  And this refuge I call Sugar House, where life is sweet, was getting ready for a new life, too.

Teacher appears. Then what?

      Save the date notices started in January.  Celebrate the half century since graduation at the elite girls private school.   I knew it was coming and wasn't looking forward to it.   I hadn't been to a reunion in 20 years. 
      My years there - K through 12 - were among the worst part of my life.  While a few events stand out in the early years at school, like way too frizzy hair from a home perm gone south, it was high school that seemed especially hard and uncomfortable.  I  simply didn't fit.
      My BFF since kindergarten left in 9th grade, leaving me very lonely.  I was an underachiever.  My dislike for reading came from being forced to read books during every summer vacation.   Thanks to Comics Illustrated I could turn in the required book reports when school started.  
      My parents were less affluent so my clothes were either knock-offs of the big brands or 'recycled' clothes Mother altered.  Mother worked there for my tuition as it was important to her that I continue the family tradition of attending the school.
      In a school with no room for average, I was an average student, failing 9th grade English.  That put me in English classes a grade behind me.  These and more instances fed low self worth and eroded all self esteem.   Any confidence I had was dashed at every turn by teachers and class mates who were popular, cute, fun, A and B students, and all those things I wasn't.  My college counselor sealed the message when she said "You'll never get into college. You're not college material." 
      Now I was faced with a reunion for the big 5 0.  Faithfully my BFF attended reunions over the years, staying at my house when I did and did not go with her.  For years she ragged on me to go with her. My reply was the same "I didn't like the school or classmates then and I'm not going back."   
      I had to face this self esteem issue and going was the only way to get rid of it and keep my power. Needing reinforcement, I called my BFF.  "I went to the last one and Frumpy was so ugly to me and hurt my feelings so I'm not going. You're on your own for this one." she said adamantly.
      Notices kept pouring in.  Dread grew.  Mentally I reviewed my accomplishments:  started three businesses, sold one, provided employment for 100 people, raised two beautiful smart daughters by myself, survived divorce, wrote a book, and stood on six continents... 
      "So what's the big deal, girl? Get out of your head and out of your way and get your butt over there. Your classmates have nothing on you. Compared to hard things you've done, this is nothing.  You've talked to some classmates over the years and they didn't like it either." I told myself.
      Two days before the reunion, a teacher appeared.  As I talked about the day and my reluctance, she said "An older person said to me once, 'When you go back to these things, you connect with someone on a different level.  Everyone's had experiences, dealt with life and you never know what's going to happen.' So you'll have fun and be surprised at how the girls are and what a good time you can have."  It was all too familiar since that's what I tell clients.
      Resolutely  I changed my attitude about the whole day. On the way to the reunion I affirmed  'I am having fun.  I am me. This is easy. This is sport.'
     Name tags had our first names in huge letters, readable without glasses. The years had been kind to most classmates.  Some I didn't recognize.  Making it a point to talk to everyone gave me the chance to connect and reinforce my worth and self eesteem.  The usual few blew me off.  The rest were chatty, full of life, stories and experiences.  We connected in interesting ways. 
      It was amazing.  I see a trip to Savannah with friends in the near future, classmate Janet being our tour guide. Mary, who lives in France,  asked me to touch base with her when Admiral and I are there next month.  
     When the student was ready, the teacher appeared.  Thank you, Teacher.   The dreaded Big 5 0 reunion was a piece of cake.

What do you do when you don't like it?

      2011 goals lay before me. They were specific with 3 accomplishments for each month and vague to allow for serendipity.  Spring goals were to plan the details around my condo, like moving, fixing all those niggily things I lived with that a tenant wouldn't live with,  and finding a tenant.  Unloading  furniture and painting Admiral's house were last minute major additions.
      "How was it all going to get done?  It's grand being on vacation and I'm not feeling very relaxed." I thought. 
      With pen, paper and calendar I sequestered myself at poolside on a brilliantly sunny day in paradise, aka Naples FL.   I had to figure this out so it all worked and I could breathe.  You know the feeling - like drowning with overwhelm on a project bigger than you.
      "Hey, it's here." Admiral hollered over the fence.  "Come and see!" he continued, dancing in delight. 
      "OK. Whatever are you talking about?" I asked. 
      " Come.  Sit here by me." he said.  A tiny square box was in his hand. 
      "What in the world...oh my.  It's my..." I said.  As he opened the box I got very nervous.  I'd had a conversation with Artsy about the engagement  ring and how Admiral designed it. When I told her I was sure I'd like it, how he said if I didn't like it, he'd design another, and how I had to like it, Artsy said "Oh, no, you don't. You have to wear it and if you don't love it, you'll be unhappy wearing it.  So forget liking it no matter what."
      "Let me see." I exclaimed as I sat by him.
      "It looks just like I imagined." Admiral said proudly.  He turned the box so I could see and there it was - the most beautiful sparkliest diamond in an exquisite setting.  "I love the illusion the stone is heart shaped.  It's the prettiest setting I've ever seen and I wanted my girl to have the prettiest." he said as he slid, then pushed, the ring over a big knuckle onto my finger. 
      "What do you think?" he asked, beaming.
      "It was well worth coming in from poolside." I laughed. "This is amazing.  I'm so excited I can't sit still. It's beautiful! I feel giddy like a teenager!" I exclaimed, throwing my arms around this most outrageous man.  "You did really good." I affirmed.  As an aside I added  " Feel free to design more jewelry for me anytime you want.  I have to call Artsy right now and tell her how beautiful the ring is." 
      "This ring spurs me on to get this planning done so our trips don't interfere with what I have to do." I said as I resumed planning. 
      Starring at my ring was the biggest distraction for this mundane planning activity.  Hours later, planning to September 10 was complete.  Four weeks cruising to Nantucket and back in the summer was the reward for this icky Ireallydon'tlikeplanning planning.  
      Planning was easier with the prettiest diamond on the planet to look at all the time.

Trail by fire lessons learned

      While spending time in Admiral's naval fleet several experiences happened because I didn't know what to expect.  Here are 10 basics I learned with trial by fire early on.  Here goes, girlfriend to girlfriend.   
1. Know that you will be 'taking the wheel' (that means steer) sooner than later.
2. Something will break that the Captain will attempt to repair right away. His head will disappear into a hole leaving his butt sticking up in the air - hence you have to 'take the wheel'.
3. Your manicure is shot.
4. You will have at least 2 new bruises when you disembark (get off the boat).
5. Slop on loads of sunscreen as you will sweat it off. Then slop on more.
6. Take a bag for sea shells to go in and a large beach towel.   If the boat is sans potty, be sure there's a bucket to fill in.  You will use all.
7. For entertainment (besides the Captain's butt sticking out while repairing the boat) bring bread, crackers and like bits to feed the gulls. How they hover is delightful and amazing.
8. You'll enjoy wearing your sunglasses and a brimmed hat. Hold on to your hat. Forget about your hair.
9. Wear comfortable clothes and layer up.  You know what to do if it's cold or hot.
10. The Captain has rules. You'll have more fun if you know what they are so ask before boarding (getting on the boat). You might prefer to stay on shore if they are stupid (no food allowed and no sunbathing) or too many. 
      My hope is that you're saved a boat load (no pun intended) of upset and have a head start on a good time on the water. Bon voyage, girlfriend.

What signs do you miss?

      White linen covered the table. Three small cakes, forks and napkins were perfectly placed on top. Chef was very official in his white jacket with thermometer in its custom pocket.  Admiral, the king of sweets, was delighted to be tasting samples for our wedding cake. 
      "This is my wedding pound cake, traditional with a delicious icing." Chef said, putting a small slice on plates in front of us.   As I tasted the cake, memories of all wedding cake filled my mind. 
      "What's the next one? I don't like this one. It's sorta dull and bland." Admiral said as he moved the plate aside.   Left over cake was the sure sign it wasn't the winner.
      "This is my carrot cake. It has extra pecans in it.  The icing is cream cheese. Not the traditional cream cheese, it's my special creation.  Smokie told me carrot cake was your favorite." Chef said as he slid plated slices of beautiful orangey moist cake before us.  Curiously, I tasted it, searching again for flavors Chef described.  Admiral ate the first fork full, mumbled about how yummy it was, and woofed down several more bites.
      As he put plates with another different slice before us, Chef said "This is the lemon cake brides today like. It's another specialty of mine.  The icing is soft and light to compliment the moist cake." 
While we ate, Chef and I talked about servings, themes, and costs.  Being cost conscious,  I said "What can you tell me about cupcakes? I've seen them at weddings." 
      Admiral replaced the unfinished lemon cake with the remaining carrot cake.  Quickly it disappeared as Chef and I talked about more about cupcakes.
      "Are you going to eat that?" Admiral asked, pointing at my left-over carrot cake. 
      "It's all yours." I said, passing the plate to him.
      "Chef, from the way Admiral is loving the carrot cake, it's the winner. How does it do in cupcakes?" I asked.
      Not realizing that Admiral was paying attention to the discussion, he chimed in "It's a wedding and there should be wedding cake, not cupcakes."    Don't you love a man who says his mind!
      With another wedding decision made it was time for more research and development to see how well we live together.  Honeymoon #3 was beginning.  Naples, Florida was the destination where weather was certainly better than RVA.
      Play was the agenda. The excursion to Key West by water was on a whale watching boat from Cape Cod. Who knew a tour boat and its crew were snow birds too? 
      From the boat's arrival in Key West harbor, to chocolate covered frozen Key Lime pie on a stick, to a pedicab ride down Duval St., and Margaritaville, its energy is contagious.  The atmosphere is electric, no holds barred on the possible.  Scooters, 'steered' by high schoolers on spring break, sped everywhere, adding their constantly blowing horns to the din of Key West.
      The return trip to Marco Island was rough, even for a seasoned boater. Both hands holding tightly to stationary objects were barely enough to stay upright for an urgent trip to the loo.  Admiral entertained himself doing origami, learned from a first-grade playmate. My attention was on March Madness, interrupted with films of the day's global disaster.  Knowing  Japan had been destroyed by the tsunami that morning made the whole day's experience seem surreal.
      Calmer waters returned and play time was ample in the 'little boat', an 18 foot jet boat.  It bobs like a cork in waves and loves to go in circles - at its will. 
      "OK, you drive today." Admiral said matter-of-factly.   With my heart beating in sheer terror, I gasped "Are you sure?  I've never driven a boat like this. I ride in it much better." I gasped, trying to be non chalant and hoping he'd get the hint.
      "Oh, you can do this. It's easy. Go ahead. Sit here and take the wheel."  he replied, pointing to the driver's chair.
      Off we went with friend Ray along.  The noisy engine drowned my pounding heart and short breathes. We were headed up the Intercoastal Waterway to Naples for lunch, about a nine mile ride.  Under my control the little boat went into circles. Efforts on my part to stop it only made more circles.
      "What am I doing or not doing!" I hollered to Admiral, who was watching gauges and dials. Ray watched the water to be sure I didn't run aground. 
      "Oh, it'll straighten out.  Don't turn the wheel so fast. You're doing fine. Kick it up a little bit.  We have a ways to go yet." he assured me.
      As I sped up, we passed boats. "What's up with these boaters putting along? The water's calm and flat.  Am I hearing sirens out here? I did see a Coast Guard auxiliary boat."  I wondered. 
      "Slow to idle speed now." the loudspeaker said. 
      "What in the world is that!" I yelled over our loud engine. 
      "Smokie, you'd better slow down to idle now.  It's the Coast Guard.  Did you bring your Drivers License?" Admiral said as officers in life jackets pulled alongside and tied us onto their huge boat. 
      "Yes sir, I own this boat, Officers.  Smokie, look in the box for the registration. We're headed to Naples on this fine sunny afternoon." Admiral said cheerfully, in response to their inquiry about the boat's ownership.  "She's driving under my supervision." he added. Thank heavens he said that since I was sans driver's license.
       We chatted with the officers while they did the Coast Guard safety inspection of our equipment.  Inow they weren't old enough to be in that big boat by themselves.  "Didn't you see the slow down signs? You're in a manatee zone, you know."
      "Officers, we were chatting and missed them.  It won't happen again." Admiral vowed.  "How far is it to Naples from here?" he asked as they untied and released our little boat.
      With Admiral at the wheel we heard them say "You have about an hour to go yet. Drive slow." as we headed on our way. 
      Collectively we said, "Whew! that was close.  Thank heavens all this required safety stuff was flawless. We were lucky to get off with a warning. Naples, here we come. We need a drink. Ray, forget low water and running aground.  Watch for those signs!"

How do you get it all done?

      "What fun it'll be. Cruising to Nantucket and back on your boat!  I'm not going anywhere 'til Miss V, grandchild #2, arrives in late May, maybe. Babies come when they come and her mom was 2 weeks late." I declared to Admiral, who was setting a mid June departure date.
      It was early February.  Summer was coming, going and then it's wedding day. Just thinking about all the to-dos made me weak. Not enjoying planning, time had come to cast aside any ideas that things would magically happen on their own.  Spontaneity wouldn't make this stuff happen.  I had to pull up my big girl panties and plan.  Simply plan to move, redo my house, find a tenant to rent it, go on four more honeymoons, take care of clients, and handle endless wedding details.
      With pen, calendar and paper, I camped out at a Starbuck's not visited before.   I knew too many people to be at my regular one.
      My caffeine level rose as lists got longer.  Smoke came from my pen as details to accomplish filled the 'Get 'Er Done' pages covering the next seven months. "Lordy, this is huge like an elephant. How'm I going to do all this?! I'm overwhelmed. And it will get done without killing me." I declared to no one as I stuffed dozens of papers into my notebook. That notebook, vinyl covered with pretty flowers and stripes in all my fave colors, was the sacred notebook, travelling with me everywhere.  Each list was like Santa's - checked twice daily.  So much for spontaneity.
      My new life with Admiral was the time to let go of stuff that had served me well.  Carefully I selected the pieces to move.  The rest would stay to provide a lovely home for the next resident at 509H.
      Admiral's quite the delegator, as you've guessed.  At his instruction I was to make his big, beautiful RVA house our home.  Little did I know unloading his Florida house was good practice for unloading this one, as it was chock full of furniture and all stuff that fills up houses. 
      "Admiral, you said some furniture needs to go." I began, going on to tell my plan to clear out the excess and make room for my five additions and a new look.
      "Sounds great. Just leave my garage alone." he said.
      With a big roll of blue painter's tape, I went room to room, marking clearly with a tape piece what I thought should go. 
      An hour later, Admiral and I toured each room. I pointed out each blue taped item. "Hm, that's always been here. Don't know where that came from. I've always liked that.  Yea, I'm glad that's going." were some of his remarks, delighting me that he agreed with 99% of my choices.
      Then he got quiet.  Seriously he said "I don't have any blue tape on me, do I?"

Is this how you do business?

      Wedding plans weighed heavily on me.  Honeymoon #1 ended adn real life began again when the plane touched down in RVA on the January afternoon cloaked in winter dull.  Admiral and I had passed the first of what would be many trials at life together with flying colors.
      Flowers were the next item to line up on the wedding to-do check list.  There were names of three florists who did over-the-top statement floral work. I looked forward to seeing their shops, the lovely flowers, planning the bouquets and getting to know them.  And so it was that on the coldest Monday morning in early February I popped into the premier florist shop.
      Christmas decor was coming down, replaced by Valentine's red and pink. In the tiny store boxes and dust were everywhere, giving no room for the exquisite display I was expecting.  While a designer put flowers in a vase, a man worked on a card table amongst piles of things that almost buried him.
      I asked "Do you do wedding flowers?"
      He looked up, put some papers in a stack, looked over his glasses at me and said "Yes, we do.  We do the important big name weddings in town."
      "I'm at the right place. Bouquets and all wedding flowers are on my mind.  You were recommended by several people.  I know vaguely what I want and there's plenty of room for your creativity and style to explode. The wedding is September 10. Are there some pictures of work you've done that  I can see?" I asked.
      Looking annoyed and moving papers on his table, he hollered "Hey, Jim, where's that photo album with the bouquets in it? It's around here somewhere."
     Jim said "Maybe it's in the cabinet. I haven't seen it in ages. I have to finish putting these ornaments away now."
     "I don't have time to look for it now.  Honey, your wedding is so far away. Come back in April or May to talk about this." the man said, his voice dripping with annoyance, his look saying "I am so done with you."
     "My calendar's in the car. I'll go get it and we can set an appointment. I'm travelling a lot and want to be sure we talk." I replied.
     "Oh, honey, call in May to set it up."  he said emphatically.  Irritation oozed from his voice and face.
     "That's how you do business?" I asked.
     "Honey, call back in May." he said as he returned to his cluttered table.
      I left the disheveled and dirty store thinking "Now that's customer service. That's a phone call I won't make. "
      A week later, I went to florist #2 on my list. The shop was spacious, orderly and oddly quiet.  "Hello. Anyone home?" I hollered,  admiring the delightful arrangements.
     From the back a voice said "I'm coming.  I'm putting the last flower in this vase."  An attractive man appeared.  "Hi there. Thanks for waiting. How can I help you?"he said.
     "I have a 1 o'clock appointment with Randy to talk about wedding flowers."  I answered.
     "Randy isn't here. He's making deliveries and can't be reached." he said. 
     Surprised I said "I talked to him weeks ago and he set this time and he's not here?!"  I thought  "It's been a long time since I was stood up. Everyone has cell phones and he's not reachable. That's one  heck of a delivery he's on!"  
     The phone rang a week later. The man said "Hi. It's Randy.  I called to reschedule our appointment to talk about your flowers. "
     "Randy, honestly I was really surprised you weren't  there. We'd set the appointment at your convenience! It's taken seven days to call me" I said. 
     "I can explain." he  said, sharing details causing his absence. 
     I replied  "I don't trust you to handle my wedding flowers. I don't know they'd get to the church on time.  No one called to cancel the date.  You've shone me your customer service and it's not for me.  Thank you for your call today."
     I wondered "If  top two florists do business like this, what's the third one like?"