Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Noni Wood, Mayor of Clarksville, Ohio

Noni Wood on election night.
At an age when many people would be slowing down, if not retiring, my friend Winona Wood, or Noni, as she is better known to family and friends,  has chosen to head down a path many today might consider temerarious at best—that of becoming an elected official, the mayor of her adopted hometown, Clarksville, Ohio.
On election night I drove to Noni’s small village—and when I say small, I mean small as in the size that brings to mind the old Hee Haw population skit, “Clarksville, Ohio, population, 497, SAA-LUTE!!"—to be with her, and 20 of her supporters at Friends Backyard Grill, a diner that sits on the edge of town. Throughout the evening we drank coffee and ate sandwiches and chili as we waited for the results to come in. Around eight, Kimber, the local Precinct Judge, called to say Noni had won the election by 77 votes (101-24).
Choosing Friends  
Noni Wood and I, waiting on election results.
Even though I am not from Clarksville, I was there because Noni and I have been friends for... well, let’s say, since we were kids many years ago. We went to the same church where my father was the minister. I can’t remember the exact time or details surrounding the moment we recognized that we shared a special bond as friends, but by junior high we were tight.

             As I started to think about this post, I got to thinking about friendship and why it is two people will single out each other to create a special attachment. In fact, I researched it a bit to see if anyone had addressed this social phenomenon—friend selection—and lo and behold, or rather, of course, someone had. Maureen Solomon, reporter for Health Day reported in an article titled, Your Genes Help You Choose Your Friends, Study Says, posted on, that some researchers  have found that genes play a role in friend choice.  She writes that “Mapping specific genetic markers within each individual's social network, the researchers learned that individuals tend to forge friendships with those who share two of six tested [genetic] markers.”  I’m not surprised. Special friendships are that kind of thing—the thing that is hard to explain and therefore most surely driven by something like biology. We’ve all experienced it. Many people come and go in our lives. There are precious few we click with in that magical way and even fewer with whom the relationship lasts throughout a lifetime.
Noni is just such a person for me. She is likeable to begin with, affable and not the least bit chary. She makes friends easily. It’s no wonder she was successful in her mayoral bid in Clarksville. She is a hard worker and seems indefatigable, just the kind of person you would want as the mayor of your village.  Also, I have always recognized in her a keen intellect (I’m hoping this is one of the gene markers we share). She has one of the most remarkable memories of anyone I know. She can dazzle me with recitations of our phone numbers from childhood, of street names, and recollections of people from our church that I don’t even remember having known at all. However, what I connect with most in Noni is the one thing that might just determine how well I click with anybody—her  sense of humor. (Probably also another valuable attribute for a mayor.)
By our early teens, Noni and I had become good friends, hanging out together, going to church camp, sleeping over at each other’s houses, and spending time together at church functions. Our shared sense of humor got me into trouble more than once at church when muffled laughter occasionally released itself down the pew during otherwise quiet moments. Mid-way through high school, I moved 30 miles away. It was the days before Facebook, cell phones, Skype and all the other great ways we now have for staying connected; so, as happens, we lost touch with each other until several years ago when we reconnected and discovered that the same strong bond still exists between us. (We’re genetically predisposed to be friends anyway, right?)
Making Choices in Our Lives
Noni Wood on the campaign trail.
But this post is only partly about friendship. It is also the story of someone that has made a conscious choice to continue to be engaged and active even as she heads into what Gail Sheehy, in her book, New Passages, calls, the third age. Sheehy suggests that individuals who have made the choice to not slip into social and spiritual isolation during late middle age and even later life are more likely to enjoy life and to continue to thrive during this period. While many pop psychology books come and go, Sheehy’s book seems amazingly relevant even though it was written in the 1990’s. In it, she writes,
“The consequences of genes, gender, race, class, marital status, income, and preventive health care (or carelessness) all pile up. But while our genes largely determine our health status and longevity, this hold true only until we reach 60 or 65. After that, if we have escaped catastrophic illnesses during the critical middle life period from 45 to 65, it is our psychological attitude and behavior that more likely determine the quality and duration of our third age.”
All along Noni’s journey, it is evident she has made choices, like moving to Clarksville or running for mayor. Rather than letting life happen to her, she is deciding how she will live. There’s a difference. I think this is the quality Sheehy sees in individuals who continued to bloom into later adulthood, or into the Age of Integrity as Sheehy calls it. 

Noni with her siblings, seated L-R, Sandra, Alana, Fonda, (Winona)Noni
Standing, (Charlina)Gai, (Nadina)Dina, (Chester)Butch, Allen, (Verona)Roni
On election night, Noni excitedly drove me all over Clarksville—it only took a few minutes—to show me her campaign signs. While we drove, I asked her how she had ended up in in this small town. She related that, as a child, her father and mother took her and her six sisters and two brothers on an outing to Cowan Lake, a picturesque lake near Clarksville, in rural Clinton County. A little over five years ago, on a reminiscence trip to the lake, she made a wrong turn and drove through Clarksville. Noni said that she was so taken by the quaint little village that seemed so inviting, that she made an on-the-spot decision to one day retire there. Just, a few years later, she rented a place in Clarksville, and then ultimately bought an old home on six acres that she has since been restoring.  Each summer she holds a large family picnic there, complete with blue grass band, dancing, and tents.
Now days, Noni travels on weekends to art shows, selling candles for her niece, Anna's business, Little Creek Candlesalways on the go, enjoying getting to visit different cities and towns. And, she still has a food business that she started over 30 years ago, Flamingo Concessions, that she has been selling off in smaller pieces over the past few years.
When I asked her why she decided to run for Mayor, she said that she believes it is important to care for family and friends, and for her community. Running for mayor was just one way in which she could demonstrate her caring and willingness to help others.
I have always, been community minded,” she told me, “and when I moved to Clarksville I became actively involved with the village, hoping I could use my past business experience and skills to help the village progress.”
Before becoming mayor, Noni held a council seat. She told me she never dreamed she would take on such a task, but that she feels humbled and honored by the trust the voters have shown by electing her Mayor of Clarksville. She adopted them, and now, they have adopted her. She serves not just as a role model for other citizens, but also as a role model of how to beautifully move into later adulthood. Clarksville is lucky to have her as their new mayor and I am lucky to have her as a genetic soul mate.

More Election Night Pictures

Noni with partner, Ken(Rug) Roberts, Katie Roberts
Katie Roberts, Noni,  Katherine Boyer
Noni with fellow campaigner, Mike Rickman, Owner of
Unique Gifts & More in Clarksville, who also
won a seat on the village council this year.
Village supporters gather for a photo after hearing the results.

Ohio House Representative, Cliff Rosenberger,
a lifelong Clarksville resident stopped by say hi.
Noni, with two of her eight siblings
on election night, Allen and Sandra.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What to Do With All the Tee Shirts the Baby Bird Leaves Behind

All the Sam's tee shirts from swim team and cheerleading. 

It made a great Christmas gift.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Wilds--One Way Ohio is Managing Large Non-Native Animals Well


My daughter Sam and I in the Open-Air Safari Vehicle
  Located in the southeast-central part of Ohio is a wonderful place called the Wilds, where Ohio is doing some important work related to large non-native animals. And, not only does the Wilds do important conservation work and work related to large animal medicine, study and repopulation, it also is a very cool place to visit. (They even have winter tours.) I won’t say I will never go on an actual African safari—who knows what wild and crazy thing I might want to do now that I am an empty nester.  But, if I never get to Africa, at least, I have had the chance to see very large, very beautiful animals in a pretty decent replication of at least some of their natural habitats.

My husband, my daughter, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law. . . well, you get it, the whole family converged on the Wilds on an August afternoon. We took the 2.5 hour trip across the 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mined land that makes up the Wilds, aboard an Open-Air Safari vehicle. We got to see animals like rhinos, giraffes, leopards, camels, different varieties of buffalo, Przewalski horses, and so many more.  

The Wilds participates in some pretty significant international projects. Check out this list on their web site.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Largest Sitka Spruce Tree—When a Little Side Trip on Vacation is a Big Deal

A few weeks ago, my husband and I flew to Seattle to visit friends and to once again experience that beautiful part of the country. We’ve been there often; it’s the antithesis of our flat mid-western state. The mountains, the ocean, the forests are glorious and it is always good to see friends. This year our friends joined us for a trip along the Olympic Peninsula coastline where we stopped at places like Ocean City and Ruby Beaches. 
Ruby Beach, Washington

Before this trip, I didn't know much about the area so I was delighted to see its beauty and diversity firsthand. Two peninsula counties, Clallam and Jefferson, boast 400 miles of saltwater shoreline which offer movie-grade Pacific vistas all along the drive. The Hoh Rainforest (12-14 feet of rain/year) is just off Highway 101 near Forks, WA, setting of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight Saga Book Series.  We stayed overnight at the Lake Quinault Lodge, a short drive off the highway. The lodge is the kind of place in which romance novels—or horror films (think Lake Placid) are set.  Also, there are several easy pre-dinner forest hikes available on the south side of the lodge if you can tear yourself away from looking out over the romantically ethereal Quinault Lake. 

Friends on Vacation

As we approached the turn-off to Lake Quinault Lodge, we started seeing signs pointing us toward the World’s Largest Spruce Tree. I was instantly reminded of childhood vacations when we would stop and visit such attractions:  the giant cow sculpture, in the Wisconsin Dells, for instance. My favorite, and the one image that has stayed with me over the years, is the world’s highest tide. On a camping trip in Canada, when I was eight, my father got the family up at 4 AM to drive to a spot ideal for seeing the tide scream into the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The Bay of Fundy is known for its high tidal range—17 meters (55.8 feet). For that much water to get into and out of the bay area twice a day it has to be moving very fast. It's something you never forget.

On our Olympic Peninsula vacation, we just had to stop and see the largest Sitka Spruce Tree in the world. A tree or a tide or a canyon or any natural phenomenon that can boast it is the largest of its kind, is a must-see! This 1,000 year old tree measures 58 feet, 11 inches around and is 191 feet high. I found it hard to wrap my head around the fact that we humans, as ravenously consuming and insatiable creatures, have allowed this living organism to stand for so long. 
Our Friend Tom Demonstrating the Size of This Tree

The amazing thing is that this rain forest area is home, to not just the world’s largest Sitka spruce, but also to five other conifer trees which according to the National Forestry Association, are also champions—the largest specimens of their species: Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar, Mountain Hemlock, Western Hemlock and the Douglas Fir. Unfortunately . . . or perhaps fortunately . . . we couldn’t see them all on our short trip.  We'll just have to go there again some day.

Most of my time is spent indoors sitting in front of a computer. Seeing a roaring tide come in, or seeing the world’s largest Sitka Spruce in its natural environment--and not in a tree museum--is nothing short of a spiritual experience, rare and precious; something a child on vacation can’t forget, and something this grownup doesn't want to forget.

Monday, September 19, 2011

School Friends

If you are like me, you don’t know much about your mother’s school friends. I do know my mother’s graduating class continued to have reunions even when there was just a few of them left.
Grace and Mary (So glamorous!) with dates--eighth grade
It feels a little sad to me that I knew so little of what her school life was like. Obviously it was filled with good friends who understood how important the friendships we make in school really are. But, I can’t name even one friend my mother had in high school. (My sister probably can. She never forgets stuff like that.) Mom wasn't close to any of them on a routine basis as we were growing up. (Maybe she was and I just wasn’t paying attention.) She had lots of friends, very close friends that she talked with often and even went on trips with after my father died but I think they were friend she made as an adult. Every once in a while she would point out a house in our small town and say, that’s where so and so lived when we were in school. I remember the specific house she pointed at when she turned to me and said, “That's where my friend Betty told me about the facts of life.” (A school friend told her, not her mother.)
Frankly, it is hard to picture my mother ever being a school girl. To me and my five siblings, she was just mom and she wasn’t supposed to be having fun. She had work to do, our meals to cook, clothes to wash and iron; plus, she was a minister’s wife and that was another full-time job. She was pretty--I know that now, but then, she was motherly and certainly not school-girlish.
So I am posting this for my daughter, Sam. It is a picture of my friend Mary and I in the eighth grade, all dressed up for a church party. Please note that we had dates. Yes, dates in the eighth grade. And, believe it or not, we thought we were just as cool then, as my daughter thought she was at that age. No one is really very cool at that age, but they think they are.
Mary’s Story
Mary and I at . . . what else? A Ringo Starr Concert in 2010

Our family moved away when I started 10th grade and I lost touch with Mary; although, we had been good friends throughout elementary school. About 15 years ago, by coincidence, Mary’s husband came to work at the hospital where I was working. The rest is history. We found each other after all those years. Mary lives about an hour from me now so we still don’t get to see each other as often as we'd like. A few weeks ago, my husband and I had dinner with Mary and her husband. Mary made this comment that got me to thinking about school chums:

“The people you knew so long ago from school are more like family than friends.”
In this life, we are fortunate if we have good friends when we are young and, even more blessed, as I have been, when a few of them stay in our lives and end up feeling more like family. I have another childhood friend, Noni that also feels like a sister to me.
Sam moved 2,000 miles away from us to experience life on her own. Well, almost on her own; she went with a good friend from high school, Jen. And, I am happy for her that she has a close friend to be with. I am sure too, that she would not find it easy to picture me as a school girl. But I was once, as happy-go-lucky and hopeful about life as she was at that age. And, we had just as much fun too, even without cell phones or Facebook.
I want to hear your stories about childhood friends. (I have more friend stories myself.) You can send your stories to me at and include a .jpg photo/s and I’ll post them. Or, you can even leave your school friend story in the Comments. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The First Thing An Empty Nester Does: Take a Class on How to Write a Blog

This is a blog I started as an assignment in a class I am taking on how to write a blog because that is exactly the kind of thing an empty nester does, right? Attend classes at the community college, take up knitting, write a blog? 

I am not really a new empty nester—my daughter graduated from college in 2009, and she didn’t move home even in the summers after she left for college in 2005. I have never had to wonder about what to do with my time, with or without a child at home. In 2008, I went back to school and acquired another graduate degree; this one in fine arts, in poetry to be specific. I have always worked full-time outside the home and continue to do so, although I have made some changes (one of the advantages to being an empty nester) in my work situation lately to have more time to follow my passion which is writing.

Being an empty nester is not just about finding ways to keep busy now that your daughter or daughters, son or sons don’t need you any more. It is about a time in your life when things can turn upside down. . . for the better and at times, for the not so better. It can be a time in which you experience immense new freedom or even dire sadness. One thing is certain, to quote Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Instead, we are in a strange new place of significantly reduced responsibilities for the care of our children which is a kind of new-found freedom, with more time to pursue creative passions or to explore new places, both within ourselves and in the outside world; though, mark my word, there is sometimes, still a lot of care to be given to young adult off-spring.

Some Interesting Facts About Empty Nesters

Here are some interesting facts I found on a website about being an empty nester (You can read the full article here.)

“Since 1996, Del Webb has conducted an annual survey of the Baby Boom Generation, comprised of Americans born between the years 1946 and 1960. Baby Boomers throughout the United States this year were polled on their feelings about becoming Empty Nesters and its impact on their retirement plans. The Baby Boomer Survey, conducted in April and May 2004, reveals Boomers are embracing the idea of Empty Nesting, the stage in life when children move out of their parent's home for good. While Boomers have an array of emotions about the situation, most look forward to getting back to what they were always accused of being - the "me generation." Below is a summary of the main points the survey uncovered:. . .

§   26 percent of respondents say they will feel like newlyweds when their kids are gone and even more (34 percent) say they will feel closer to their spouse without the children around.
§   Fifty-eight percent say they are or were emotionally ready to get the kids out of the house. Males (70 percent) are significantly more likely to be emotionally prepared than females (55 percent.)
§   The older the Boomers become the more ready they are to clear the Nest. In fact 71 percent of the Boomers between 53-58 years old are emotionally ready to be Empty Nesters.
§   Boomers have mixed feelings about becoming Empty Nesters. While a large percentage is neutral about the emotional impact, Boomers do feel an increase in freedom to be themselves with Empty Nesting. . ."

Are you ready?  Will you and your spouse feel like newlyweds?  Do you have mixed feeling about this stage in your life?  We can't always answer those questions easily. So, this is what I want my blog to be: a gathering place for kindred hens (or roosters) whose chicks have fledged . . . a place where I can share my stories and tell some of your stories, with your permission, of course. I want this to a place where we can walk along together and see what the empty nest looks like turned upside down. I hope you will make comments, share what is going on in your own empty nest. I’d love to hear from you.