Tuesday, July 28, 2009

#30: The Here and Now.

Seven months down the line; I can now move from past to present tense and the blog can start to fulfill its intended purpose: that of keeping family and friends informed of our progress.

From this point on, nothing within our story will be leading to a known resolution, and our relationship will move from one transient episode to the next. We will use this blog to record certain points within our unpredictable journey. There will be no 'happily ever after' to aim for, just an aimless, meandering series of incidents, opinions and missives.

My role at this present stage is over. I am just as much an observer as you are, with all the activity taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. Lisa Jane has now finished working for Hilton, leaving her time to finalize the preparations for her big move whilst she awaits the processing of her visa application. I, for my part, sit impatiently longing for this separation to come to an end, powerless to help and often restricting progress by monopolizing of Lisa's valuable time with prolonged internet chats.

Hopefully, my next blog entry will be in around a month's time and will tell of Lisa Jane's arrival in the UK. Let the adventure begin.....


Friday, July 24, 2009

#29: Christmas 2008.

In the absence of children, my Christmas celebrations have come to owe more to Saturn and Bacchus than to any Christian character.

For the past two decades I have spent the holiday with my parents at their caravan where tradition dictated only that Christmas necessitated excess. My mother's huge steak meals would be served reverentially with copious amounts of dense red wine, Champagne would accompany the lighter meals and a brandy or vodka would ensure that we were incapacitated by the evening.

Our bitterly cold nights were punctuated by trips to the bathroom just to run the water supply, thus ensuring we didn't have frozen pipe work to deal with at breakfast. Every aspect of these past Christmas' was wonderful and our simple routines became for want of a better phrase: our Christmas traditions.

With Christmas 2008, both Lisa and myself set out to establish our own routines, to create our own take on the festive season. This was to include my first real Christmas tree, stockings hung over the fireplace and for the first time in over two decades: the giving and receiving of gifts on Christmas morning.

In their brief meetings with Lisa Jane, my parents had already come to love her company and so they were both thrilled when we invited them to spend Christmas with us. Initially they were wary of the invitation, not wishing to intrude in what was obviously a very special time for Lisa and myself, but Lisa Jane played the hostess to perfection and it was soon apparent that my parents were having a wonderful time.

Just one year earlier I had sent Lisa Jane a simple video for her birthday, 2008 saw me attempt to better this by presenting her with an unconventional engagement ring.

The choice of ring had proven a problem, I strongly dislike most jewelry and engagement rings can be especially gaudy to my uncultivated eyes. My research was beginning to show that the larger the stone, the more expensive the ring, or as I saw it, the more ostentatious and unwieldy, the more befitting the importance of the moment. Allowing my English eccentricity to come to the fore, I chose something less sensational on the eye, something that would be worn long after the engagement: a simple diamond and platinum eternity ring. As usual, Lisa made allowances for my unconventional nature, in fact, I think she actually approved of my choice.

The high point of the holiday definitely wasn't the murder mystery jigsaw that Lisa carried all the way from the States, the box full of dark purple and tartan pieces proved a trial on the eyes and a test of everyone's patience.

The party we held for some of my family members proved much more of a success, it was an intoxicated affair that judging by everybody's unwillingness to leave, was a major triumph.

On a more personal note, this proved to be an amazing end to an incredible year. Both Lisa Jane and myself had developed a close empathic bond when working together that I believe stemmed from the fact that our love had its initial foundations in friendship rather than anything physical. We had already developed a natural ease around each other, our different cultural backgrounds and the minimal amount of time we had spent together in real life was not important, we were functioning as a couple. It is hard to appreciate that after forty plus years as single entity, I suddenly started to look upon myself as one half of partnership; by the end of 2008, I was a different person from the man who had initially seen in the year.

Our goodbyes were not as miserable as on previous occasions, we were both too eager to move forward, forward towards a more permanent arrangement.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

#28: Who Lands Where?

Dear Reader,

Andrew may have been lead astray. It was clear that I should move to Enlgand: it was an unstated prioirty for him to be close by to his parents, and his work schedule provided the opportunity to tour Europe, something we both longed for. Plus, I had encouraged him to purchase a house that, unbeknownst at the time, was more for a couple or British family...still smaller than anything owned in most US cities. It was just one more cultural difference to grasp in the world of the UK.

In the 4th quarter of 2008, the world-wide economy took a downturn. Andrew's company was bought out by a Japanese firm that could turn his world on a dime, and Hilton was under a globalization. Ironically, Andrew's company also has an office in Memphis where I reside. On the flip side, it would be a mistake to move to England and not be able to not find work and support us should he be laid off. We really needed to see how the economy played out.

In the meantime, Andrew and I plotted out a Christmas and New Year holiday together in England.

Lisa Jane

Monday, July 20, 2009

#27: The Aftermath.

Lisa Jane's trip was successful in that it added a new clarity to our future plans and beginning our life together in Darwen could now be viewed as a definitive goal rather than just a viable option. Having this tangible destination to aim for meant we could now concert our efforts into reaching this one objective; we were entering new and unknown territory.

Our discussions turned upon visas, house sales, tax laws, health insurance and other unpalatable matters whilst a new pragmatism entered the relationship; plans were laid down and the timescale suggested that we could possibly be living together by the next summer.

Suddenly though, I was beginning to realize that my part had been played out, as daunting as the next stages sounded, the onus had shifted entirely to Lisa Jane, I was merely an impatient bystander.

It was decided that we should spend Christmas together in England and so I now moved my efforts into preparing for the festivities, this needed to be special, it is not every Christmas you get engaged.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

#26: Lisa's first trip to Lancashire.

Lisa was about to get a taste of the renowned English climate in all its glory; the BBC news was reporting on floods down in the south and the upcoming weather forecast for Lancashire was grim....

This trip was no mere vacation, Lisa Jane needed to experience the varied aspects of life in England, both the beauty as well as the all too apparent ugliness of the landscape, the virtues of our society as well as the ignorance and crudity. I had every intention of indoctrinating Lisa into some the worse aspects of living in Lancashire, knowing full well just what the implications could be, but it was a necessary step and best dealt with early. If Lisa Jane was genuinely intending to move here, she needed to see as many varied facets of my life and surroundings as possible, I needed a measure of her resolve. This was not a test of our relationship though, we merely needed to know if Lancashire was a viable option for the beginning of our life together or whether we needed to look for alternatives.

Any lingering doubts Lisa Jane had about my character also needed to be addressed, this was never going to be a problem though. I had my parents to fall back on.
My aged parents are the most transparent people you are ever likely to meet and they would never tell a lie in order to achieve any sort of gain. Much as my mother longed for this relationship to work, I knew that within minutes of entering Lisa's company, she would eagerly lay bare my character with an overt sincerity, relating story upon story that highlighted my eccentricities, faults and failings. If I had ever given way to artifice in order to win over Lisa Jane's trust, then my deceptions would have been all too apparent after ten minutes in my mother's company.

The first two days were our own though; our first shared venture into domesticity......

Lisa's account of that long week seems to contain all the most significant events, chronologically ordered and with more than an adequate degree of detail to satisfy the casual reader. So I, in my turn, will offer up a confused, meandering mass of incidents, a non sequential collection of memories from that wonderful week.....

I remember a long walk beside the Wyre Estuary, our original plan being only to feed some nearby ducks. We were enticed to travel further and further, Lisa enthusiastically pointing out the various wading birds that inhabited the salt banks and I suspiciously monitoring the leaden skies overhead. We eventually returned to the parents' caravan by negotiating a muddy series of quagmires, (one of which held a Land Rover hostage) both of us so wet from the merciless rains that it took me six months to dry my trousers.

I remember how Lisa Jane charmed a smile and friendly word from a Darwen checkout desk worker who's usually dour disposition was, I'd always assumed, unlikely to ever produce anything other than a sour grimace.

I recall how Lisa's eyes almost became unhinged from their sockets as she tasted real, mature Cheddar cheese for the first time, and how she stoically polished off a bland plate of fish and chips, just in order to have the trial added to her list of accomplishments.

I remember a bee keeper, picking up on Lisa's accent and inviting us round to his hidden, apian retreat, proudly displaying the collection of hives, who's existence I had never been aware of before.

I recall Lisa's awareness of the new vegetation around her; popping the exploding seed pods of the policeman's helmets or carelessly allowing her hand to graze the stinging nettle that is so prevalent here.

I remember how Lisa's American twang allowed her the freedom to act in an unconventional fashion, whether greeting sullen strangers with a cheery "Hello" or teasing market stall owners on the merits of minor British pop stars.

These were perhaps some of the more mundane incidents of Lisa's trip, but everything about that week was special to me.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

#25: Visiting Darwen

Dear Reader,

After a few months of chatting via web-cam, and a full five months after meeting, it was time to visit Andrew in England. We had spent a week together in Virginia, and he proved to be all that I could possibly hope for, yet there was a need to confirm that he wasn't a serial killer or child molester by meeting his parents.

In late May of 2008, I boarded a plane to Manchester. It's been ages since travelling internationally and never that far by myself. At baggage claim, the suitcase arrived, and I was ready to check into a hotel if necessary. Upon walking out to the public area, there was a man holding a sign that said, "Pied Pfeffer". It was Andrew.

The cab ride to his (our) home was easy. Andrew had the taxi waiting to take us down the A666 and up to the curb where he handed me a set of keys to the house. It was as symbolic as an engagement ring.

Th first 2 days were devoted to a tour of Darwen. We strolled through the market place, the library, a fast-paced stride up to Darwen Tower, and a leisurely dinner at the Pothouse Pub. Keep in mind that Andrew gave up his automobile years ago, as there was no reason to spend the incredulous amount of money on petrol, maintenance and taxes when he could walk or take excellent public transportation wherever needed. It's quite different than the US lifestyle, yet appeals to the sustainability aspect so longed for.

On Monday, his parents arrived, and swept us away to the caravan. A day was spent in one of England's most famous towns: Blackpool. Who knew that it would take a trip to England in order to have my first meal of McDonald's Fil-a-o-fish. We walked the docks and saw a Dr. Who Tardis. Andrew's mother and I had our fortunes told, which resulted in a questionable amount of money spent for what we already knew.

The next day, we headed to Fleetwood, where the Greenhalghs spent their summers as the children grew up. It was an amazing area, and the stories of the family were worthy of the trip. Andrew and I sampled cockels, which were dire...otherwise, the visit was fantastic. At some point, we had a meal of fish and chips. For those that are planning to visit England, go to a restaurant, as we did, versus a street vendor for the fish and chips. As for the side dish of mushy peas...I'll leave that choice up to you.

On the way home, we stopped at a store for some groceries. It is all quite fascinating, as much is the same as in the US, just by different names. We headed back to the caravan in the rain, had a light meal, watched British television until nodding off, and then headed to bed.

In the 2 days at the caravan, Andrew and I took long strolls along the country-side. It is odd how England has birds that look similar to the ones in the US, yet are called by different names. And they have birds of the same name that look completely different. The robin is an example...in Britan, it is 1/2 the size of the US robin, and much duller in color. We are both interested in the British birds, and his back yard is set up to attract them.

The rest of the week was utterly fantastic and flew by too quickly. There was a dinner at a local Indian restaurant with his 2 sisters, their husbands and sister Denise's charming children Daniel and Martha. We trotted all over Darwen, and apparently, it is not appropriate to greet those that you pass by, particulary if they are strangers, and you need to keep your eye on where you step.
We took long walks in the countryside, through 2 cemetaries with much older tombstones than found in the US, and the library and local market. A movie theatre and shopping mall are a bus ride away to the next town.

The week went all too quickly. And once back into our separate realities, the world was changing. Andrew's company was bought out by a major Asian company, and Hilton Hotels went from public to private. Despite wanting to build a life together, it made little sense for either of us to make a move until we knew how it all shook out.

Lisa Jane

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#24: Darwen.

Darwen is a small industrial town whose history centers around stories of cotton mills and lowly working class folk. The noise of clogs on cobblestones early every morning is now long consigned to the history books and the cotton industry is all but dead. However, there remains everywhere the solid exteriors of the old vast cotton mills, reminders of our heritage, refurbished inside to accommodate new modern businesses. I don't think I need to tell most readers that of Britain gets more than its fair share of rain, day upon day of dull overcast skies, bleeding the colour from this already drab industrial landscape.

My return from the perfectly manicured lawns and dazzling sunshine of America to the overcrowded, sepia drenched little island I call home, instantly made me realize just how unrealistic it would be for me to ask Lisa Jane to ever consider moving here. I had voiced this concern to Lisa on so many occasions in reference to a proposed visit, but things had now progressed to a point where we were projecting our ideas far beyond just visits.
Lisa Jane was now my best friend; I adored this woman in a way that went beyond mere friendship though. I was dreaming of a life with Lisa as my partner, and I couldn't see how to turn this dream into reality, unless I took Darwen out of the equation. I was beginning to have serious misgivings about my judgment; maybe I was cruelly leading Lisa down a cul de sac whilst giving her the impression that we could possibly share a future together.

It was at this point that I became reliant on Lisa Jane's drive and tenacity, as she motivated me on a daily basis to scour the local area for housing that would suit my needs. I was reporting nightly on my findings as she in turn searched the internet for more and more interesting properties for go and explore.

For all its faults, Darwen is surrounded by a verdant, beautiful English countryside, scattered with little atmospheric old public houses and farms. Even the rain cannot diminish the majesty of our dark green, fertile, landscapes of rolling grassy hills dotted with sheep and cattle. I found myself spending hours, strolling from property to property, invigorated by the knowledge that I could possibly one day share these views with Lisa Jane, and then I accidentally stumbled upon DerMar.
Its location was perfect, being across from open farmland and a quaint English pub. Its price was also perfect, with my miserly years as a single man at last paying dividends. One quick viewing was enough, and within months the house was mine. It all sounds so simple now, but if it hadn't been for Lisa's determination and insistence, I definitely would not have found my new, much cherished home.

The time was now right for Lisa to visit England.....

Monday, June 22, 2009

#23: DerMar

Dear Reader,

By the time Andrew and I returned to our separate and anti-social lives, his focus was on the selling of his house, while on this end, it was on the restructuring of Hilton Hotels. Both were much needed. It was obvious that Andrew should finalize the sale of his original house, move out of the rental (and bid Mortimer the Rat a fond farewell), and find an appropriate place to live.

Andrew's Deliberative side required that he wait until his house sold before looking for a new one; my Activator quality wanted him to at least search out potential opportunities. After signing up for 2 web-sites that posted houses for sale, I'd come home from work and check out the links sent. Knowing his preferred price-range and location, I'd pass on ones that could be a possibility. While walking around Darwen to inspect the houses, Andrew would often take photos and send them to me. It was quite an insight into the British culture, such as the red mail boxes.

And during one of Andrew's breaks from work, he posted another video that pokes a bit of fun at Darwen, but is greatly treasured. I don't expect you to watch it, as it's a bit long for the outside observer; just know that upon viewing it, I couldn't help but laugh through it all, until the beautiful ending, which still makes me tear up.


Still on the search, several houses were ruled out for a variety of reasons, and then we hit upon DerMar. Upon receiving the link, the house piqued his interest, and at some point, he invited his parents to tour the house for their opinion. In American terms, it was a home run. His house sold, and he bought DerMar.

Lisa Jane

#22: A Week in Pictures. The Trip Part 4

Just a few of the pictures taken during our first week together.
The Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton.

Skyline Drive. Lisa poses as I watch for bears.

Matching coloured tops, much to our embarrassment.

The Newseum.

The Air and Space Museum.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

# 21: Staunton. The Trip Part 3

Our first full day together had been carefully planned out well in advance, it sounded ideal; an afternoon with Lisa's family, helping out with a little gardening.

Lisa's mother's home, situated in a beautiful neighbourhood in Staunton, VA, proved to be HUGE by English standards, and as soon as we arrived I was thrust upon a host of Americans who were summarily introduced as family members.

I rolled up my sleeves and showed my willingness to help in their toil, at which point I was shown the vast acreage which, although purported to be a garden, was in fact the size of a small English county. It was thought best that Lisa Jane accompany me for fear that I may get lost in the grounds, as I was given the task of clearing a path in a distant copse. After a full ten minutes of arduous labour, we retreated to the patio for nourishment and a well earned rest.

As the day progressed, I was allowed the freedom to melt into the background and study the family from a quiet corner of the house. Although the surnames varied, this was the Lunt clan: a warm, welcoming and very close knit unit. Lisa's mother; the elderly matriarch at the centre of everything, so obviously happy to be bustling around, answering the needs for the various family members. There was a collection of bright, articulate young adults; grandchildren, enjoying the comfort and security that only a close family gathering can provide. Lisa's siblings and in-laws made up the remainder of the party, filling the house with laughter and relaxed banter, the whole atmosphere was idyllic. The memory of my previous day's trials faded away as I relaxed, feeling extremely privileged to witness this insight into Lisa's family life from such close, intimate quarters.

This first day was the real highlight of the whole trip for me and it provided most of the memories that will stay with me the longest. One's family background may not necessarily be reflected within one's character, in Lisa's case; the influences are all to obvious and it was like having a new dimension of her personality revealed to me.

The remainder of my time in the States is more than adequately described in Lisa's earlier post, and it will suffice at this point for me to just add that our first week together was obviously not going to be our last.


Friday, June 19, 2009

#20 The First Meeting

Dear Reader,

The night before embarking on the trip to DC, there was a phone call in the middle of the night. Andrew rang to say that the airline had no record of his reservation. My 1st reaction was that it might be a way of his backing out, and then reality set in...I knew he'd sort it out. And that he did. Later, he called back and said that he was booked on a different flight that would arrive about the same time as planned before.

Arriving at Dulles, there was an agonizing wait to see if Andrew made it or not. The flight board said that the plane had landed, yet the minutes ticked by, and he hadn't showed up in baggage claim.

And then there was Andrew, desperately looking around. While we had been web-camming for months, I wasn't willing to risk him not recognizing me, so I slipped on the Groucho Marx glasses, nose and mustache tucked in my bag. And then he spotted me.

A quick hug, a desperate wait to see if his luggage would show up (it did), and then we were off to pick up a rental car. I'll confess: the poor, tired man suffered a 45-minute drive while I searched for the hotel that was only 10 minutes away, making several wrong attempts to locate it. Finally checking in, he went to his room and I went to mine, with a promise to call as soon as I woke up.

The next morning, we shared our first meal together before heading off to my mother's house 2 hours away. Mom hosts an annual Yard Work Weekend, where the whole family gathers to clear out the back yard's wooded paths and garden. After the introductions, we were handed a rake and a hoe, and we headed off to our designated section to clear out. It probably wasn't the most opportune time to ease him into the family, but Andrew was stoic.

For me, the best part of the weekend was when Andrew hosted a taste-testing of some classic British delicacies, that included PG Tips tea, Marmite on toast, a variety of biscuits, Cadbury chocolate bars, and the family's favorite: Coleman's mustard. It was a wonderful, relaxing morning, and the perfect way to end the weekend.

Family members headed home, while Andrew and I stayed over one more night. Mom made dinner for the 3 of us Sunday night, and Monday morning, Andrew and I headed back to DC, taking the Skyline Drive upon brother Peter's suggestion, and despite Mom's warnings of recent multiple black bear sitings.

Four days in Washington, DC, with Andrew was just too fantastic to even describe. We would arise early every day, meet for breakfast, and stroll hand in hand through a couple of museums each day. The highlights were: the shoe display at the Holocaust Museum, the Van Gogh painting at The Phillips Collection, a meal in The Museum of the American Indian, and an afternoon in the Newseum...the last probably being our favorite. One night, we met up with 2 of my high school classmates, Liz and Michael, for dinner. Thank you both for a wonderful evening.

On our last day, we stopped off at the newer Air and Space Museum near the Dulles Airport. And then, it was time to separate. After taking Andrew to the airport, I'll confess that a tear or two was shed, but I knew it wasn't then end, and that we would be together again.

Lisa Jane

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#19 A First Restrained Meeting. The trip part two.

There was something seriously amiss about my travel arrangements, and my usually reliable travel agent was about to come close to scuppering all my attempts at meeting my appointment with Lisa Jane.

The fact that I did actually manage to arrive in D.C. and meet up with Lisa as planned was incredible; the fact that my luggage also arrived was miraculous.

Lisa was sat on the luggage conveyor, and I did quite well in recognising her, especially considering she was wearing a Groucho mask. I managed only the weakest of smiles, the trip had been a test of my resolve and patience, and I could only feign some semblance of composure. In truth, I probably looked more like a rabbit caught in the headlamps.

It is worth bearing in mind that Lisa was taking a risk here, I was still just some guy off the internet at this stage. I realised this of course but had no exigency plan in place for if she did suddenly just panic and leave, this in turn left me feeling strained and vulnerable.

Washington is a imposing city by repute, and I was too exhausted to contemplate negotiating my way through this huge foreign metropolis in search of accommodation. I will readily admit that I was worried.

This was my first introduction to the real life Lisa Jane, and within a few minutes, I began to recognise her as the self same woman I had come to admire during the long months of nightly web cam chats. She was the one link I had to my normal existence back home, and I began to relax as she took control of the situation. I felt all the more relaxed as I began to sense that an opportunity for sleep was close at hand, the last few days had been a physical challenge, a good night's sleep and then I could start to enjoy being around this wonderful lady.

The next day involved a trip to a mansion and its adjoining parkland but that can wait till the next blog.....


#18 Thrown into a maelstrom. The trip part one.

In my mind, the week of our first meeting is still a massed jumble of loosely connected episodes; my brain has not yet processed them all into one tangible whole. A table of ingredients: I can remember each herb and spice's individual taste, but the finished recipe is far too rich to digest.

Fortified by caffeine and adrenalin, my body fighting off an excusable exhaustion; my senses were suddenly overwhelmed by an onslaught of intense experiences. The initial meeting at Washington Dulles international airport and the following days in Lisa's company were seismic in their effect on my bemused and intoxicated faculties.

I could write page upon page, relating incident upon incident, bore you with stories of shared breakfasts, mountain top hugs or surreptitious kisses. It will suffice though just to know that on returning home and allowing myself some time to reflect, I came to realise that somewhere within that confusing and bewildering week I had fallen in love.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#17 Winter, but not too discontent.

My little terraced house was put up for sale, and (as the estate agent predicted) a buyer was found within days. The next few months though proved to be a long series of frustrating disappointments and minor annoyances: the buyer's solicitor went bankrupt and lost all the paperwork, then the buyer had trouble raising the finances required to complete the purchase and after months of delay, dropped out of the deal completely. Suddenly the housing market hit a slump, rumours of a recession were rife and to add to my frustrations the empty house attracted the attentions of an opportunistic burglar who failed to gain access, but managed to break two large windows in the attempt.

My life was far from comfortable; I was living in a run down, rented building, living out of suitcases, sleeping on the floor, washing my clothing in a bucket and sharing my house with rodents. Knowing that this was only a transitional period and having the daily benefit of Lisa's optimistic guidance helped me see this as my own little adventure. As bad as things seemed, I sensed that my life was at least heading in the right direction.

The house sold very quickly on the second attempt, and with Lisa's continual prompting, I was sent wandering the streets of Darwen, searching for an ideal location for my next property purchase.

Before that story can begin though there was the small matter of a trip to America....


#16: The Web-cam, a Brief History

I've always viewed webcam owners with suspicion, my opinions being formed by the more dubious characters at work who are known to use them.
When I did eventually go out and purchase myself one of these cheap little gadgets (along with a stylish, discrete headphone set), there was no guarantee that Lisa would submit to this new, much more exposed form of communication.
My thinking was merely that Lisa may get a thrill from seeing my real time reactions as I received her messages; at no time did I press Lisa to go out and actually buy a webcam for herself though.
I must point out the error in Lisa's earlier message: my conversations have never been known to wane. The web cam sessions allowed me the freedom to converse, unhindered at last by my limited keyboard skills, and okay, occasionally, I may have been a little too tired to carry my side of the conversation. For the most part though, I recall that Lisa was more than eager to do enough chatting for the both of us, and I in turn, was more than willing to sit and listen to her distinctively American accent as she related stories about her distant homeland.

Over the course of time, the webcam strengthened our friendship, took away the fantasy aspect of our relationship, and prepared us for the inevitable, real life encounter. The webcam is to this day a very important part of our relationship. I get seriously tetchy if I have to go 24 hours without a webcam chat with Lisa Jane.

The distractions of the early webcam sessions kept me from worrying about the new, frustrations that life was begining to throw my way....


Sunday, June 14, 2009

#15: Leaving Second Life for a New Begining

Dear Reader,

Keep in mind that Andrew and I are separated by not only a great distance, but a 6-hour time difference. He works in shifts, so there are days when this is to our advantage. Even so, the poor man has spent many a day taking a rest before dutifully getting up prior to the midnight hour his time, when I arrive home.

Upon logging in to SL one day in February, Andrew shared a link to a website and asked me to go there. I did so, and the software was downloaded. Thus began our new life of web-camming.

And there he was. There was no disappointment; in fact, quite the opposite. While it did take a bit of time to get used to this new venue, it was more due to the fact that we were finally alone...no more interruptions by our SL friends, as much as they endeared our hearts and were cause to keep the conversation flowing. We were now on our own.

At first, the conversation would sometimes wane, but we quickly grew to know more about each other. One thing discovered is that, despite the vast difference between British and US humor, we could make each other laugh. Oh, the laughter that has happened over the past year is more than 40+ years combined.

Realizing that this relationship was developing, it was time to discuss the next step: a real life meeting.

Lisa Jane

#14: A SL Engagement

Dear Reader,

After the holidays of 2007, Andrew and I were back in touch via Second Life. The e-mail exchange had brought about a new facet to the relationship, yet SL was a way to communicate at the same time via instant-messaging...the best substitute for conversing at the time.

In SL, your "birthday" is the day that you joined the web site. Andrew's SL birthday was at the end of January. With this duly noted, on the appointed day, a celebration was offered up. Andrew was quite gracious despite this silly observation. In fact, he wasn't even aware of it. We spent the evening chatting in Mauve as usual.

Also in SL, there is an option to announce your commitment to someone else. It consists of a quick message exchange that results in a posting on each others' sites that the two people are SL partners. Andrew knew at the time that it was ridiculous, but it would mean a symbolic step forward to me. And so Andrew offered a proposal to a SL relationship on his SL anniversary. And of course, I was elated to accept.

Lisa Jane

#13: That video again.

With the Boxing Day video I accomplished my primary objective in that Lisa Jane continued with her email correspondences right through my Christmas break, and I now had no need to doubt that Pied Pfeffer would be waiting for me in SL once I returned from my lengthy hiatus.

Judging from the emails immediately following Boxing Day, the video had created a far more positive impression than I had thought possible. It seemed that the short film held some powerfully positive attribute that was hidden from my eyes or else my clumsy attempt at wooing had proven endearing rather than oafish.

Its charm is still lost on me to this day, probably because embarrassingly enough, that inarticulate idiot who is on screen is the self same fool that faces me in the bathroom mirror every morning. If anybody from work was ever to uncover this masterpiece, I would no doubt face weeks of ridicule, and with this in mind, I removed the file from youtube at the earliest opportunity. It disappeared from public view for only 24 hours though, at which point a dismayed Lisa intimated that she would appreciate its immediate return.

Jumping the gun; exactly one year later and I presented Lisa Jane with a much more expensive and better thought out birthday gift: an engagement ring. Apparently though even this could not come close in Lisa's estimation to the surprise gift of that earlier birthday.

My recollection regarding the exact ordering in the sequence of events that followed Christmas is now far from reliable, and I must fall back on Lisa's accounts to some degree. Our activities within SL were really inconsequential to me at this point; Second Life was merely a vehicle I used in order to keep up communications with Lisa Jane. Our discussions tended to center around the possibilities that lay ahead for us both and together we plotted our next move: perhaps a real life meeting.

By the way, did I mention that all these weekday sessions would last for hours and that they would begin once Lisa arrived home from work, this was at the unsociable hour of midnight by my time.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

#12: 2007 Christmas Holiday

Dear Readers,

I was born December 26, more commonly known as The Day After Christmas in the US and Boxing Day in the UK. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, questions what it is like to have a birthday in the pathetic aftermath of such an important Christian day. It took several years before succumbing to the peer pressure of their questioning, and my family agreed to my request to change the celebratory date to July 26. Such a silly thought, but I appreciate their giving in to this whim. After a year or two, it was moved back to reality. (For those of you in calculation mode, yes, I had to wait 1 1/2 years to receive a birthday present at the changing back of the date.)

The nice thing about a 12/26 birthday is that I've never had to go to school or work on this day and have always been with my family. 12/26 has become an extension of the Christmas holiday that is not wholly owned by me, which is fine.

The current tradition is: early evening Christmas Eve church service at Covenant Presbyterian (thank you John Peterson) and a dinner of h'ors deurves at Mom's house. Stockings are hung over the fireplace, presents are put out, and everyone goes to bed for a restless night of sleep, anxiously awaiting the next day. The family gathers relatively early on Christmas morning for niece Jennifer's egg casserole, cinnamon buns and tea. And then there is the tradition of freshly squeezed orange juice started by our father.

On Christmas morning, we all gather round and take turns, in order of age, to open a present at a time. If you sneak off to take a quick bathroom break and your turn comes up, it halts the whole process and creates quite an aggravation within the group, so best to monitor your tea consumption.

The rest of the morning is spent playing with all the toys received, then a light lunch, and then the whole family crashes. If someone were to wander into our mother's house mid-afternoon on Christmas, they'd find bodies laid strewn on every bed, sofa, and sometimes on the floor and might think that there had been a mass murder, quite possibly conducted by the lone nephew who stayed awake and is hacking away on Mom's computer. Dinner that night is orchestrated by our 80-something year old mother who still holds the secret to the best turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, and most importantly, The Stuffing.

The day after Christmas means an early morning of visiting the downtown shops for their after-Christmas sales. We are talking about a very, very small town, so there are only a few places to visit, but ones that have high quality items. Then home to hang out, take a walk around the neighborhood, and then anxiously await going to niece Jennifer and her husband Sei's home for dinner. It's always a fabulous dinner, and everyone looks forward to it. After dinner, there's a quick nod to it being my birthday, and then we move on to more important things...Gag Gifts.

It all started years ago. While Mom doesn't suffer from it as badly as Andrew and I do, I know she has Input somewhere high in the ranking. Long ago, Mom decided to clean out some closets and "generously" give away some of the items she's collected over the years. We are not talking about heirlooms...these are things received from opening a bank account or who knows where. They are all wrapped up and placed under the Christmas tree in the living room. We gather around, draw a number from an old purse, and select a present from under the tree to open. The rules are: the person with the next number can steal from you or select another unopened present from under the tree; and no matter what you end up with, you are required to take it home with you (and dispose of as you wish).

We have all ended up with some dire presents. One year, someone got busted for tucking hers in a corner of Mom's attic when we all weren't looking. The worst though was when nephew Bo, about 6 at the time, opened up a package that contained a pair of "granny panties", and tears ensued. I don't remember who, but some adult graciously "stole" them from Bo, in which the child ended up with something just as ridiculous, but less embarrassing.

For Christmas holiday 2007, there was a new distraction from the annual routine. Andrew had entered my life 3 weeks earlier, and I already suspected that he could be the most important person I've ever met. The promise of writing an e-mail daily doubled to twice a day...on both sides.

On December 26, 2007, the e-mail with the link to the birthday present from Andrew was received... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL2mD-pg0OI&feature=related

Lisa Jane

P.S. Over the holidays, Andrew not only learned what my real life name was, but saw the first image of me. Niece Alex snapped this photo while I was on the computer...

Friday, June 12, 2009

#11: Bringing me in line with Lisa's account.

With our relationship still very much in its infancy, yet showing a great deal of potential, came the arrival of Christmas. Both Lisa and I had plans to visit our respective families over the festive period, and in my case, this meant a fortnight with only the most basic of internet connections; SL was out of the question.

Relationships within Second Life are ephemeral; without experiencing this very artificial environment for yourself, it is hard to appreciate how people have a tendency to find a new circle of friends, or someone just disappears altogether if you absent yourself for a week. Both Lisa and I realized that this seemingly brief separation was a far greater test of our friendship than it probably appears to outsiders; you must realize that at this stage, I didn't even know Lisa's real name.

Prior to my leaving, I received an email from Lisa that touched upon the possibility that we may have reached the stage where we each take our separate paths. A new year beckoned, and our friendship had only the flimsiest of foundations. We both looked forward to more of the same SL fun, but there were no guarantees that real life commitments wouldn't bring our gameplay to an abrupt end.

It was easy for me to send a strong rebuke via email, but I knew that a week down the line, Lisa could easily stumble upon somebody wittier, more charming or more intelligent than me within SL. Lisa's friendship was too important to me to just allow it to end in this fashion. I needed a plan of action, and that is where I hit upon the idea for the birthday gift video of myself.

The video was always going to be a gamble. There was the distinct possibility that I was about to make a complete fool of myself and bring about the end of the friendship that I was trying to strengthen. I'm not exactly noted for making a positive impression on women in real life, and I could see a video of a bumbling buffoon singing in a park may frighten Lisa into severing all links with me. This was a make or break decision, and right up to the point of sending the link to the subsequent video, I was hesitant about going through with it.

The video itself was a rushed affair; my time was limited, and the process of uploading was daunting. Within 24 hours of coming up with the idea, there was a video of me singing Happy Birthday Pied on YouTube.

And on the very same day, Lisa sent me an email and revealed her real name........


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#10: Second Life, hardly the ideal format to form a relationship in.

The hardest aspect of our relationship to explain is always going to be the very early stages when we were restricted to Second Life's real time, text-only communications. What developed over the months was more than mere friendship. How we progressed to that stage using such a basic medium and with my avatar dressed for the most part in a Groucho mask, Groucho slippers and a dunce cap is bound to arouse skepticism about just how serious a friendship could actually develop under such circumstances.

In our defense, both of us were just in Second Life for the pure escapist fun of it, both our defenses were down, and during our few serious moments we soon realized that we shared a lot of common ground. So from the instant Pied Pfeffer appeared before me up to our logical progression into webcam territory, I found myself nightly in Pied's company, grinning like a Cheshire cat at our increasingly juvenile antics.

Pied is long gone now though; Lisa Jane and I have progressed too far to return to the innocent silliness of Second Life. I look back now and see only the restrictions that SL imposed upon us and would never be tempted to try to return and relive it.

The two most memorable incidents during this period were both in real life, and both occurred whilst chatting online with Lisa. One was quite a violent earthquake by British standards: shaking the house with a low rumble the likes of which I have never encountered before or indeed since. [Those of us within his SL company at the time thought it was only a large truck rumbling through his neighborhood and were immediately proven wrong shortly afterwards by the internet reports of an English earthquake. -LJL]

Secondly was the discovery that my unappealing, large, rented house had a serious vermin problem: that is if you consider a rat emerging from the wall cavity and nosily exploring the living room serious. [I named the rat Mortimer. -LJL]

A new idea occurred; I moved all my belongings upstairs, kept the living room door permanently shut and thought about perhaps selling my own empty home with the intention of buying a house more suited to a married couple. Our relationship was at much too early a stage to make any concrete decisions but the first small germs of an idea where forming and I knew it would be advantageous to just continue on within this squalid, old residence for a time until I could fully ascertain just where this friendship was heading.


#9: Prologue

I believe that I too have some input in this blog, and although by nature I tend to be guarded, I feel that my take on events may add accuracy whenever and wherever my beloved Lisa Jane lapses into fanciful misremembered reverie.

The tag 'confirmed bachelor' was created originally with me in mind. (You need only purchase a good English encyclopedia to confirm this.) I was content within my own little terraced house, living an antisocial but self indulgent lifestyle. Life was indeed good; I needed only a local library, a well stocked kitchen, and a reliable internet connection in order to live out the rest of my existence in a self satisfied, blissful fashion, unawares that a better alternative could ever be achieved.

Although I now view Second Life with a degree of distaste, it was instrumental in changing my entire outlook on life. Upon its discovery, I suddenly found myself conversing with people outside my usual sphere, a diverse range of intelligent, cultured and occasionally freakish individuals, most with radically different backgrounds to my own. Suddenly, at the age of 40+, I realized that I wasn't as antisocial as I'd always imagined myself to be and much out of character: I became addicted to my daily dose of online smalltalk.

Almost a year into SL though, and my interest was beginning to wane, it seemed that the freaks and ruder elements of this virtual society were in the ascendancy, and I was close to quitting.

Real life now came to the fore, as I had the arduous task of moving into a rented house whilst my own home had some building work done to it. I found myself living in an expensive, yet run down property, sleeping on the floor, with all my processions boxed up in one room and living on a diet of microwave meals. With this as my backdrop I became all the more reliant upon my escapist existence within Second Life, and it was at this juncture that I fatefully met one Pied Pfeffer...


Monday, June 8, 2009

#8: Second Life Part 2

Dear Readers,

The virtual world of SL is not meant for everyone, as discovered upon the urging of co-workers who took one look at it and said "no thanks". I finally learned to continue the pursuit of finding out what this life offered alone, both work-related and from a social aspect.

After the quick chat with Andrew and his friend, I headed off to Midnight Reflections, where my fellow 80's music friends hang out (miss you all!) The next night, when logging in, I (or Pied) landed in the same public park, and there was Rew Rossini, sitting on the same park bench. Apparently, the home page was reset for Mauve, the park in the public island in SL. Thus began an almost daily conversation between the two of us. Within a week, I knew that this was someone that was a dear friend for life.

Rew Rossini was quite open with who he was in real life, while I felt the need to keep it guarded. There are some really, really, questionable people logged in to SL. Andrew was the only one in SL I had ever met who customized the look of his avatar to be sculputred after his true self; most lean towards a youthful and glamorous look. Also, on one of his SL information tabs, he had a link to a web-site that had real life photos posted, so it was known who was really behind the Groucho Marx mask.

I now look back on his trust in this attempt at a relationship; I was privvy to much personal information about him, while Andrew had virtually none...no name, no image.

With the Christmas holiday approaching, we shared our plans, which included both of us going to spend the holiday with our families.

Lisa Jane

Saturday, June 6, 2009

#7: Second Life

Dear Readers,

And then I stumbled upon a second life. Nooo, silly. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is not like my friend across the street whose huband decided to post pictures of himself on the internet to attract other women.

The Second Life web site kept cropping up in training periodicals that I was subscribed to. It sounded like a potential opportunity for our company's global training, which I am a small part of within Hilton Hotels. After a few months of reading about it, I spent the weekend logging in and created Pied Pfeffer.

Second Life (SL) is a fascinating place, filled with people from all over the world with great creative talents. While enticed by the opportunity to experience it from a work aspect, it was easy to succomb to the social life.

Making friends in SL is much like real life, with the difference being you never know who is behind the avatar. But then, do we really know who is behind the person in front of us?

In December of 2007, I logged on to SL. The home page simulator was down, and it sent my avator to another land. It ended up being a public park, and there on a bench was a male avatar dressed in a dunce cap and Groucho Marx glasses and slippers. Despite the silly accessories, there was something instinctively special about the man behind the avatar.

Lisa Jane

#6: My Space

Dear Readers,

Time on My Space was short and sweet. What was posted was real, and it was fantastic reaching out to those that had sister Chris for a teacher at Robert E. Lee High. Thank you so much for your connections and providing information on how our sister touched your life.

Lisa Jane

#5: Ansestry

Dear Readers,

Meeting people via an online dating service didn't work out, so I resorted to dead people. As ghastly as it sounds, it is only another web site. http://www.ancestry.com/ Living a solitary life searching for ancestors was suited at the time. It allowed the Input to kick in and collect a list of relatives. It appears that we are mainly from England and Germany.

There is a link to Famous Ancestors that include inventors (Eastman, Whitney and Winchester), writers (Tennyson, Dickenson, and Thoreau), actors (Hepburn, Wayne and Dean), US Presidents (Hayes and Reagan), and I'll admit to a skeleton or two in the closet.

Lisa Jane

P.S. To the family: we actually have ancestors named Patience and Mercy, to name a few, from the 1600's in New England. The good news is that none of them appear to have been stoned for being affiliated with witchcraft...obviously, or the line would have ended before we came along.

#4: Online Dating Service

Dear Readers,

My brother informed me that he has met a wonderful woman through an internet dating service and strongly suggested, as a single female, to check one out.

Taking his advice, I logged on to one to go unnamed. Be it to my personality, profile, or location, the only men that cropped up on the radar were farmers from Arkansas and Missisippi, named "Ricky" or "Bubba". Although they seemed like nice gentlemen, each was not a perfect match. So ended the search on that site.

Lisa Jane

P.S. A word of advice to men: Do not tell a woman during the first time that you meet her that your second son was sired by your first wife's sister's husband and that your son doesn't know it. TMI.

#3: Classmates.com

Dear Readers,

An e-mail was recieved regarding Classmates.com. What an opportunity to re-connect friends as far back as kindergarten! I grew up in a small town in Virginia, USA, and most of us moved through the 12 years of school together.

Classmates provided a way to reach out to a few people who were close, if not influential, in my life. It was a good way to catch up on what was going on in their world many years after graduation.

And then my brother enticed me to join an internet dating service. Thus began the new attraction.

Lisa Jane

#2: e-Bay

Dear Readers,

"Input" is a Strength is identified by the Gallup Organisation as a collector of things, be it information or tangible belongings. It is a habit ingrained in those that have it in our Top 5 Strengths. You may not recognize it in terms of a label, but you know who we are and call upon us when needed. "Do you still have that e-mail that a co-worker sent out 6 months ago?" Yes, of course we have it archived and are elated that you called upon us to dredge it up...because we saved it.

e-Bay is the playground of people with Input. It started with a search for all things related to Frank Llyod Wright. Backing up, one of my earliest memories is visiting Falling Water, one of FLW's creations in Pennsylvania, USA. At the time, children my age were not allowed to tour the house, so I was tucked away in a play center while the adults toured the site. Despite this, something clicked. I can keenly recall the walk up to the house. Years later, memories of that walk flooded back when revisiting the house with Aunt Jane and Mom.

Back to e-Bay...upon discovering it, there was a desire to know what was for sale that was previously owned or touched by Frank Lloyd Wright. After a few months of monitoring, 2 items were purchased (I'm ashamed to tell you how much was spent), and I realized that this was a site that needed to be put in check.

Lisa Jane

P.S. If anyone is in the market for a scrap of bright lime green, purple and orange carpet reminant that resided in the Phoenix Biltmore Hotel before their renovation in the '80s and that was supposedly designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (it certainly looks like it), please contact me.

I also have a ring commissioned by FLW for one of his wives. It is a lovely Australian opal in an obviously designed FLW gold setting. Okay, so it barely fits on my pinky finger and I'd have to put my arm in a support in order to hold it up under all the weight...the stone is HUGE. It could make a nice Texas belt buckle; it's that large.

#1: Before It Began

Dear Readers,

There is a long-running debate on whether there is one soul mate for each of us on Earth or if there are many out there we would suitably be partnered with, and it is only a matter of effort. I had no idea what the answer was.

And then I met Andrew.

But before launching into how we met, you probably need some background information. I am a female in my mid-40's, never married, no children. My parents set the example of an ideal marriage.

Throughout years of dating a few good men that didn't work out for one reason or another, I gave up on the thought of marriage. Aunt Jane once prophesied that I was holding out for a relationship like my parents had and might never marry. I interpreted it to mean that I would never find someone like our father. I was wrong in that concept; she meant that I might not find someone as well-suited to build a relationship together that was as strong as our parents had.

It all started with the Internet. As a collector of both tangible and intangible things, the Internet became my playground. And e-Bay was discovered.

Lisa Jane