Monday, June 30, 2008

Now for the Outside

Photos: Side of the house with deck. Front yard, complete with fire circle. View from the deck of the backyard with clothesline.

Looks like this will be another summer of painting. Now that the living spaces and laundry room are finished, it's time to turn my attention to the outside. Oh, boy.

The railing around the deck and porch needs to be painted. Before today I thought the railing was just primed. Poking around this morning I found white outdoor paint in the utility room. Ugh. That's why the paint is peeling - the wood wasn't primed first.

Ohhhhh, this is SO not my idea of a good time. Not that I don't want the wood to be protected and the house to look good. It's not that. It is that for the past sixteen months I have been thrown back into a role that I was working hard to get out of: caretaker of the house. Before we sold our other house, I had finally gotten things finished! Walls and woodwork were painted, floors and carpets were in good shape, and the outside was at the point it could be easily maintained. For the first time I had a yard, with grass, and flower beds, with flowers.

Since we moved, it has been one project after another, and there is still so much to do. Did you see the yard?! There is no yard, just clay, rocks, and weeds. Slopes need to be leveled and fill needs to be delivered and topsoil needs to be spread.... When I say I want to talk to people who know about landscaping, I mean that I want to ask where to begin to think about landscaping with no expectation of action for at least another year...and maybe longer.

The irony is that until about six years ago I had little to do with the yard. The kids played outside, and we kept the grass mowed. Then the kids got older, and I wanted a yard I could enjoy. For the first time in my life I wanted to play in the dirt and plant flowers. Ken and I added topsoil, fertilized, and planted flowers. We rebuilt the front walk and patio. We edged all the flower beds with bricks or stones. I moved plants from one place to another if they didn't do well, and I watched them thrive with the attention.

Then I read that women in/near menopause often enjoy working with their hands in the soil. At the time I didn't know that I was that close to menopause [officially four years this August]. I felt relaxed when I worked in the yard, often for hours at a time. It wasn't something I had to do ~ it was something I wanted to do. And it made me feel good.

My disappointment with all the painting left to do here has to do with where I still need to put my attention. It's not what I want, but it is what I need to do. Maybe someday I will once again be able to loosen the mantle of caretaker of the house.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Shift Happens

Some things have shifted for me this week. I feel different. My optimism about the future has returned after a long absence. It started last week when I started posting on the 50-something moms blog, continued through my application for my dream job, and culminated today when my daughter came for breakfast.

This afternoon I saw Louise Hay, Martha Beck, and Cheryl Richardson on Oprah talking about the laws of attraction. They shared how they have created vision boards. Since I am more into words than pictures, I am going to start a vision list....

I will secure a job that allows me to: bring people together to collaborate; facilitate dialogue; and work to improve the life situations of people in Maine

I will get my business off the ground

I will continue to write and take advantage of opportunities to connect with women around the country

I will work on a plan for the outdoor spaces at our new home, with the help of people who know about such things - and there will be a chance for readers to give their input once I get "now" pictures ready to post

This is the beginning of my vision list. I wanted to write it here so I won't forget my intentions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Money, Money, Money Part 2

This morning I had the second meeting with my new financial advisor. I felt more relaxed before, during, and after this meeting than I did the last time. I knew I would need time to figure things out, and I had in mind that this was a time to do some of that planning. If I knew how to do this I wouldn't need to ask for advice, hence the need for an advisor.

And, yes, I have been trying to do this by myself. I'm not keeping anything from Ken. The meetings have been during the day, which makes it impossible for him to be there. Plus, he doesn't want to know all the details. I'm transferring what I have already accrued in retirement savings to a new investment firm, keeping most of the same accounts for now. So it's not that there are a lot of decisions to make.

However, I realized this morning that there are still things that Ken and I need to talk about. We were on a course that changed drastically 15 months ago with our move and my desire to change careers. Life has been so busy that we tended to whatever needed our attention at the moment. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months, and now we've been in the house for a year. Time has a way of passing whether or not we are paying attention.

Once I finished school and stopped working outside the home, I took on most of the household responsibilities, which included getting the day-to-day finances situated. I write most of the checks and pay the routine bills. We chat weekly about where personal accounts stand and what's coming up. What we haven't taken time to talk about is long-term planning, so I didn't know how to respond when the financial advisor started asking me questions about ten, twenty, and thirty years down the road.

I thought about all of this on my way to today's meeting. I told the advisor what I had figured out, and she agreed that it's time to sit down with both of us to talk about what we want for our future. And as scary as that sounds, it's also exciting. Ken and I can talk about what we value and where we see ourselves down the road. We now have someone who can help us work toward making that future a reality.

I feel as if a weight has been lifted and a door has been opened. I smiled all the way home. The future has such possibilities. All I did to get to this place was decide that I don't need to have all the answers because I don't need to do this alone. That's the best gift I've given myself in a long time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My New Team

Forget about it taking a while for me to feel at home on the 50-something moms team. They picked up my option and I'm staying. My second post is up this morning, and I feel like a little kid who just learned how to play catch. Readers posted comments on my first article and I appreciated every one. I like having the opportunity to connect with women around the country and have enjoyed visiting other women's blogs. There's a lot going on out there in the world of weblogging.

Lately I have been thinking, too much for someone who is trying to stay present, about where I fit and why it matters to me so much. It's because connection and conversation change the way I feel about my life. After a long talk with a good friend I feel energized. I feel that when I talk on the phone to a friend from away. I felt that way this past week-end when I had the chance to see people I haven't seen in awhile and we had a chance to catch up.

The hard part is finding people who want to share ideas, which is why I love to go back to school. When I take classes I find people who are interested in and want to talk about the same things. My frustration as a teacher was how hard it was to find other teachers in the same building who wanted to talk about teaching. When I did find someone it was like finding water in the desert for both of us. And typically those people were also taking classes, which gave us even more to talk about.

I cannot afford to take more classes right now. The pull is great, but I need to find other ways to expand my world. As President Jed Bartlett said in an episode of West Wing, "...I dream of ideas and diction, energy, honesty, and discussion...." I loved that so much I wrote it down. That's my dream, too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

April and Bernice

I saw a good movie yesterday, Then She Found Me. *I will only write about one interaction in the fourth paragraph* A friend went with me, which was a special treat. We went to the local independent theater where you can buy a cup of coffee or a Nantucket Iced Tea on the way in. There is one cinema, with a few comfy couches down front where you could sink in and could fall asleep if you're not careful. We chose to sit in the old-fashioned theater seats, and the place wasn't busy so we had a whole row to ourselves.

I had seen Helen Hunt, writer/director/actress for this movie, promote the film on talk shows. I'm always intrigued when someone says they spent ten years getting a movie made. That's like two and a half presidential terms. Ten years is a long time. Plus, I like Helen Hunt, so I wanted to see this movie.

Now here is where things can fall apart. I want to see a lot of movies. For one reason or another I often get waylaid, i.e. the movie doesn't come to our area; the movie only stays a week; Ken doesn't want to see it and I don't want to go alone; Ken does want to see it but I want to go alone; I don't want to spend the money; or I get lazy and say I'll wait until it comes out on DVD. This means that I miss seeing a lot of movies in the theater. Often times it's my own fault, so I'm working on that. I didn't want to miss this movie so I made a date with myself for the first Saturday it hit the local theater.

The movie did not disappoint. Helen Hunt is the type of actress that I can relate to ~ she looks and talks and acts like a real person, someone I might actually know. Some of the relationships in this movie are more developed than others, and most are believable. There was one scene with Helen Hunt and Bette Midler that struck a chord with me. I won't give away the details, but at one point one woman knows that something is terribly wrong for the other and wants to know what it is. She won't let go of the idea that something is not right and makes it clear she cares enough to stay and listen. That truly is a gift - to have someone who knows you well enough to ask what's wrong and who cares enough to stay around to hear the answer.

Yep, I really need to see more movies in the theater....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Of Words and Pictures

My first post is already up at 50-somethingmomsblog! Check it out here. Now aren't you glad that I learned how to download digital photos to my computer? Have you ever seen such a display? Each post needs a graphic, so you will be seeing more of my [non]artistic ability.

I was wondering this week why I am not particularly artistic. My mother and sister are artists. My husband used to draw cartoons and does beautiful work with stained glass. Each of my children is an artist in their own way. The most memorable piece of artwork I created was in second grade, when I did a sponge painting of evergreens in the snow. Soon after that I learned to do embroidery, and sewing became my outlet for artistic expression.

In high school I discovered I preferred to express myself with words. I remember when it clicked - in eleventh grade my creative writing teacher read aloud in class an essay I wrote. I had named the title character "Mrs. Bitch," which described her personality. Kids didn't swear in school in those days, and I rarely used such language anywhere. The essay was my first venture into the world of wordplay, and I pulled it off.

I value the art of language, how words can give snapshots of scenes and situations. I understand how meaning and emotion can be conveyed with carefully chosen words. I know how words can heal or hurt, and I know that even words taken back can linger long afterward. So I choose my words carefully, hoping to create a short story about a life situation. And I have lots of help ~ my dictionary and thesaurus are always close at hand, and my self-editor has no off button.

This medium has provided me with an outlet for my words. I am grateful for that and for those of you who have read this far. Let the journey continue....

Friday, June 20, 2008

A New Opportunity

Well, I pushed the "send" button for my first post for the 50-something Moms Blog. I don't know when it will be posted because it's sent to an editor and put in a queue once it's approved. In the meantime I encourage you to check out the 50-somethingmoms, which is affiliated with other moms blogs all around the country, which are listed down the lefthand side of each site.

This all started when I saw "mommy bloggers" on The Today Show in May. I started reading other blogs written by women in a variety of life situations. I am amazed at what's out there. The topics, styles of writing, age of writers, reasons for writing, and all matter of details of people's lives are endless. A place to start is which gives one list, one of many in cyberspace, of blogs by topic.

For me, this is all part of my quest to find a team. The 50-something moms are on probation because I don't know them very well yet. One writer has been helpful and I am enjoying getting to know her. I don't know how well I will fit in with this group of women, which you can see for yourself if you click the "About Us" tab at the top of the 50-something website. Most of them have a computer as an added appendage, whereas I had to print out the instructions to post on TypePad and read them four times before I even started. I just learned last month how to download photos to the computer from the digital camera, for heaven's sake! I will continue to plod along if I think I will benefit from being a part of this group, which I won't know for a while.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Grand Essentials

The first comment on my last post brought something to mind that I hadn't thought about for awhile. Several years ago I bought an inexpensive plaque with the following saying:

Three grand essentials
to happiness in this life are
something to do,
something to love,
and something to hope for.
Joseph Addison

The plaque hung on my wall for many years, and when I started teaching I made a poster with the saying for my classroom. I liked that the essence of life could be expressed with such simplicity.

I thought about the saying when I sat down at the computer to write this post ~ something to do

As I was worked around the house I thought about what my husband and children are doing today and have planned for the week-end ~ something to love

And yesterday I read the announcement for the opening of my dream job ~ something to hope for

I feel out of balance when one of these elements is missing from my life. I am unhappy when I feel there is no meaning to my doing. My children know this about me. When I asked my oldest son what he thought about this blog, he said, "I'm glad you found something to do, Mom." It wasn't the response I hoped for, but it acknowledged the fact that I'm in a better place when I am doing something with purpose.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rethinking My Role

One foot in front of the other. Cleaning. Clearing. Rearranging. Rethinking my role in my family and my life. Asking. Waiting. Listening. Then yesterday I had an aha moment....

One of the blogs I read regularly belongs to Cindy La Ferle. She has also started writing for the Michigan Women's Forum online in a column called Middle of the Road. Yesterday I read her first post, and I was struck with her words "...the second half of life offers the freedom to choose again -- to polish, edit, refine and reconsider." The freedom - not out of my control but with self-determination. To choose again - not to undo but to make an alternative decision. To polish, edit, refine and reconsider - not to regret or lament but to enhance, adapt, rethink and process. What a positive perspective to take about this time in my life, to see the potential and possibilities - not what I will be missing or giving up.

I am more than the errands I run, the arrangements I make, and the appointments I keep. I am more than support staff for the rest of my family. My husband and children have the life I want: challenging, with support from home and room to grow; independent, with time for family and friends; productive, with something to show for the effort spent.

I have spent twenty-eight years being the parent I always wanted. There was a time when that was appropriate. Now my children are grown and can tell me what they want and ask for what they need. Each of my children, in their own way, has told me that I have done my job and they are fine now. They want room to make their own decisions and mistakes.

I can choose again - I can make choices that suit the life I want to have now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Little Bits Add Up

I deleted over 300 emails this past week-end. Every time I go through that process I promise myself that I will not let incoming and outgoing messages add up like again. Then I keep one message for an address, one for a phone number, another for its humorous insight, and one I wrote when I had a particularly lucid moment....The little bits add up.

Today I found dozens of receipts to shred. I just cleaned out that drawer, once the Christmas charges were billed and paid for....Wait, Christmas was six months ago. Yet it doesn't seem like I shop that often. Again, the little bits add up.

Suddenly, the clothes hampers are overflowing. How does that happen? I take a few days off from the role of laundress, and then there are six loads of wash that need my attention. Fortunately, I consider laundry one of my areas of expertise, so I am prepared to deal with the diverse demands of socks, jeans, delicates, and T-shirts. It started innocently enough with a pair here, a pair there, and a pair worn for three days in a row....The little bits add up.

Why is there no room in the refrigerator? There are two hot dogs swimming in beans, one hamburger waiting for a reheat, half a watermelon begging to be sliced, fresh vegetables in individual Tupperware, three pepperocini left in one jar, broccoli salad from last night, salsa in need of chips, and three open bottles of wine to satisfy different tastes. Time for "restaurant night" because the little bits add up.

Where did that pile of books come from? Three I'm rereading for the facts I forgot, one I'm starting for the third time because the wisdom is keeping me afloat, one is on loan from a friend, and one is fiction to give that part of my brain something to think about. This pile replaces the last pile that I finally put away. I just need to remember that the little bits add up.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thirty-Three Years Ago Today, Exactly

Friday the thirteenth, June 1975. That was the evening of my first date with Ken. I should say my first official date. We had been meeting "by accident" at a local Dunkin' Donuts for weeks. We both knew the owner and people who frequented the donut shop, and we were both each of us just happened to stop in around midnight for a cup of joe...wink, wink. By the time we actually went out we knew each other pretty well. Since mid-May we had spent hours in conversation over coffee and cigarettes.

That first date formalized a relationship that started the moment we shared glimpses of our lives with each other. I had already fallen in love and decided this was the man I was going to marry. I had never known a man to be so gentle and patient. Ken's sense of humor matched mine. He had wanderlust and talked about living in Maine someday.

For our big evening he chose a steakhouse known for its quality and atmosphere. It was all I expected. I was more nervous than I thought I would be, but as the evening went on I relaxed and enjoyed the uninterrupted time with this new man in my life. Live music was offered in the lounge, so we stopped in after dinner. That was when Ken told me he had given up cigarettes ~ the price had gone up another nickel so he decided that he was done, which I figured meant I was done, too. I didn't want to smell like stale smoke while he smelled all fresh and clean. It wasn't that I smoked that much, but I enjoyed the habit with coffee and conversation. [I didn't regret my decision, but to this day I occasionally have a dream where I am smoking a cigarette.]

Neither one of us wanted the evening to end so we went for drive, then a walk, and then back to my house for coffee. At four in the morning he left for home, after he kissed me on the nose and said he'd call me later.

We did see each other later that day and almost every day after that for the rest of the summer. Ken had a steady job and I had summer work, but we didn't have much money. Most of our time together involved family and friends. We didn't know what the future held. We did know we were in love.

I have often rethought the chain of events that brought Ken and me together 33 years ago. When I look back everything makes sense, but we had no way of knowing at the time that things would work out. We trusted each other to be there, no matter what. The other night I asked Ken how long a person can be expected to stand by their spouse, and he said, "A very long time, Sharon." That's the man I first dated 33 years ago. That's the man I love.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Scent of Sunshine

Sheets drying on the line for the first time this year ~

There is nothing better than climbing into a bed made with sheets that have been dried in the sunshine.

At our old house I had four lines outside where I hung laundry from April through October. In the basement I had lines everywhere there was room and could hang laundry when the weather outside was disagreeable. We bought a dryer when I was pregant with my youngest son, and it was such a luxury that I rarely used it for more than socks, underwear, and towels. Oh, and cloth diapers, which I used for all my children because they were better for our bank account.

Here, I hang most of our clothes inside to dry. We rigged a retractable line in the laundry room, and I have two drying racks. Air drying still saves money and also extends the life of clothes, which is a plus for this woman who rarely enjoys shopping for new threads.

Once I start hanging sheets outside for the season I am committed until the snow flies. I am addicted to the crisp feel and clean scent of sheets dried in the sunshine. My daughter turned me on to the idea of washing and hanging out all our sheets before the freezing temperatures arrive so we can enjoy the scent of sunshine for a few more weeks. Right now we are on the front end of summer weather, and I anticipate many nights of sunshine-induced dreams.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Livin' On A Dirt Road

Although we live just four miles from an interstate highway, somedays it feels like we are living at the end of the earth in a deep valley far from civilization, literally.

We have learned to live without cell phone service ~ inside because the walls are made of concrete and outside because we live in a valley too low to pick up the signal from the cell phone tower just three miles away.

We have learned to live with DSL instead of cable because the cable provider refuses to pull cable a little over a mile further down the dirt road to reach our house.

What is becoming more and more difficult to live with is the lack of television reception. And I know this shows me up to be the shallow person I am...but I miss being able to see The Daily Show, HGTV, TBS, TNT, Red Sox games, and the myriad of shows available to most of the civilized world. We get five stations by way of a television antenna that Ken bought, on clearance because they were going out of stock, and mounted on a corner of the deck. Sometimes the channels even come in pretty clear, especially PBS. However, there have been nights lately when the grainy quality of the NBA Finals has been enough to make even an I-only-watch-the-final-round-of-any-playoff-series amateur like me pine for the days of clear reception.

And if I'm feeling this way, I know it is way worse for Ken and my youngest son, who have both been wonderful about the situation and not complained once during the last week as we've watched the Celtics in all their multi-pixeled glory.

What about satellite you ask, as does anyone who hears about our existence on this dirt road in the valley? Well, you see, we moved to the "woods" and woods have trees, which is why we moved here in the first place, and these trees are tall and block the view toward the satellite signal in the sky. And then there are the concrete walls of the house...which would have to be drilled through because the house was wired for cable, which we can't get, and the wiring for cable completely negates the ability to get a satellite signal through the handy dandy wiring that the builder installed without first seeking the advice of anyone who knew anything about the technical ramifications of building a house with concrete walls on a dirt road in a valley....

You get the picture, so to speak.... So if you hear loud whirring, followed by a loud rumble, followed by a lot of whooping and hollering, you will know that Ken has been busy with a chain saw making way for sunlight. And me? I'm busy drilling holes in the foot-thick concrete wall downstairs....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Past Is Passed

Last fall a friend recommended a book she was reading. It was first published in 1999 and came out in paperback in 2004. I had heard the title but had never picked it up. I was at an extremely low point and was looking for all the help I could get, so I bought the book. It is not an exaggeration to say that book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, changed my life.

He had my attention from the moment he mentioned his lifetime of anxiety and depression. Then he followed with the words, "It feels now as if I am talking about some past lifetime or somebody else's life" (p. 3). I was intrigued. I kept reading.

The first turning point came for me on page 61, where Eckhart writes, "All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence" [I added italics for emphasis]. I underlined each and every word, drew boxes around the phrases, and then marked the entire paragraph. How did he know? He had listed all the emotions that were tumbling through my mind, constantly jockeying for position and pushing each other out of the way for a place at the forefront. It was a vicious cycle ~ I would get a handle on one emotion only to have it replaced with the next dysfunctional feeling waiting in line. Eckhart hit all the highpoints of negativity, and it sounded like he had conquered the beast. I was willing to give his ideas a chance. I had nothing to lose.

I took his words to heart. I found if I focused on the present moment, I was able to let go of my fears about the future. When my mind kicked in I held it at bay with the reasoning that the future wasn't here yet and I could think about it later. I battled my mind with my thinking, which was flawed on so many levels, but it got me out of the thinking spiral until I felt stronger.

Not thinking about the past was a much larger challenge. I had over 50 years of past to let go. My ego liked the identity I had constructed over those years: the guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, and bitterness fed my image of myself, kept me small and sure that I could never be the person I wanted to be. By December I realized I was in a battle with my ego for the future of my life. The more I was able to stay present, the less depressed and anxious I felt.

What did that say about who I was for 50 years? Did that person not matter? Did she not have anything to offer? Did she do everything wrong? These are the questions of a thinking mind that does not want to stay present. These questions speak to why I stayed in the same thinking place for so long ~ that place validated who I was. I thought I needed to keep doing what I had always done because that's who I thought I was. The problem is that if I do what I've always done I will get what I've always gotten. I want the second half of my life to reflect who I am now.

The second turning point came for me, also compliments of Eckhart Tolle, when I read these words in A New Earth ~ "Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?" (p. 141). When I first read those words, it was like I was reading a foreign language. I had no point of reference, and it was only through continued reading and reflecting on the words that I could begin to make sense of them. I interpreted them to mean "that was then, this is now." I began to accept that I did the best I could with what I had. I did better as I knew better, and I made changes along the way.

The biggest change I have made is to accept where I am now. I have decided to make choices based on who I am today. I will make choices that fit who I am, not who others think I am or who I used to be. I will only be able to live this way if I stay present, and staying present is the first step in awakening to my life's purpose.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Finished: One Laundry Room

Ta Da! Finished! This is the working end of the laundry room/bathroom.

And at the opposite end a lovely small sink and mirror [that the builder permanently attached to the wall].

These are the appliances for which the room is named. They are back in business.

I finished painting the white trim last night and sealed the tile floor today. The room doesn't feel as sterile as it did when it was all white, and the softer color definitely makes it a nicer place to be. I like doing laundry, and I like that there is always something that needs to be washed.[Clear surfaces and uncluttered floor are for purposes of these photos only.] I realized today that I haven't used my camera much in the past year, and I miss taking pictures. I've been catching up with prior posts on and admiring her photography. For purposes of this blog I have learned how to use Ken's small digital camera, which is fine for its ease and portability, but it's not real photography. We've had two 35mm cameras in the past 32 years ~ once I get used to how something works I like to stick with it, and I just know the basics. I know I like the look of images caught on film. But Heather's (aka Dooce) photos are taken with a digital camera, albeit a really nice digital camera, and some of them are exquisite. I never thought I would buy into digital photography. Maybe it's time for me to re-examine that idea....

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Good Enough

Last summer I met a woman in town who started her own business. I asked her if she would share her experience over a cup of coffee. She accepted my invitation and graciously explained how she set up her business. The most helpful thing she shared, though, was how she changed her perspective about the work she did.

As we talked we discovered that we were both perfectionists. At first she tried to perfectly finish each project. She strived every day to do everything that needed to be done, and she was wearing herself out. Then she had a chance to talk to a person in town who had his own business. After they shared experiences, she asked him if he advised that she should learn to accept that a project was good enough. No, he said, she needed to learn that sometimes "close enough to good enough" is okay. She still cares that her work is good quality, which is different than expecting it to be perfect. And she said that it gets easier with practice.

The look on my face told her that I didn't believe that would happen for me. She assured me that it would and that I would be happier for learning this early. I told her all the things that I wanted to do, didn't know how to do, and worried would happen down the road. She calmly explained that she went through that and shared how she makes herself a weekly chart that keeps her focused on what to do first, second, and so on. She also said that I could not plan for everything that might happen because there was no way I could know everything ahead of time.

I talked to her six months later and her business was thriving. I said, "You told the universe that you were ready and it responded." She agreed.

So I've been practicing letting things be good enough. I have almost finished painting the laundry room, in a timely manner I might add, because I did not fixate on all the imperfections but accepted the room as it was: a laundry room that needed sprucing up with a bit of color. It has made the job easier and more enjoyable, and it has been "good enough" practice for me while I remember to take one step at a time.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lost and Found

I have lost more stuff in the last fourteen months than I did in the fourteen years before that. As someone who likes to keep track of stuff, this has been very frustrating. Part of the problem was that as we were moving out of our old house, our daughter was moving back in. A month later our youngest son finished classes, moved out of his dorm, and moved in with our oldest son so he could work for two more weeks; then he moved home to a house he had never lived in. Just weeks later our oldest son moved into a newly-built apartment half the size of any place he has ever lived. Chaos reigned. I have decreed that we will never all move within a two-month period again!

In this process my oldest son's baby book was misplaced. I would not even let myself think that it could be lost. It was in a box of his school papers, saved for posterity, which we remembered moving around last summer....

[Note: I started baby books for each one of my children before they were born. It was important for my daughter and even more important for my sons because I heard horror stories of second and third children not having the same keepsakes as firstborns. I have a precious baby book that my mom kept for me, and I wanted the same for each of my children. I also kept scrapbooks, but that story is for another time....]

So I have searched rooms and gone through closets numerous times in both houses. It's not easy to lose a file box but apparently this one was. Almost ready to concede defeat to the forces of things lost, yesterday I decided to go through everything in the basement of our old house one more time.

Lo and behold the box was on the shelf, a shelf that I had searched before. I don't doubt that it was there all the time, but I wondered why I didn't see it. What was the lesson here?

The box was found and the baby book was safe. In the time between lost and found I thought about my attachment to material things and why finding the book was so important. It's the record of the time before and after the birth of my oldest son, who has grown into an honest, intelligent, personable, hard-working man. The answer was not to hold on more tightly to the memories but to make more room for the present. I was able to do that last week-end when he was home, and I am grateful for the time we had together. Finding the baby book was a bonus, and I'm grateful for that, too.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

One Step Forward

My car has been acting funny so I took her into the shop today. Turns out she needed new plugs and an alternator, so it was an all-day ordeal. While I waited, my daughter let me hang out at her house, aka my old house, where I can always find something to keep me occupied. Over the years I painted or papered every room, most more than once. The house no longer feels like home, but it still feels familiar.

Today I thought about what else in my life feels familiar and how unwilling I have been to let go of the old to make room for the new. Throughout the day I gently asked myself what I am afraid of. I didn't belabor the point or wait for an answer. I kept myself busy with physical tasks and tried to keep the thinking to a minimum.

Then I walked two and a half miles to retrieve my car. I was grateful my legs could carry me that far. I thought about a time when I wasn't able to count on my body to do what I needed it to do and how that led me to start massage therapy. I saw the same therapist for four years, until she moved out of state. I learned that my mind and body are connected, and treatment of one affects the other. During one particularly emotional session she said to me, "There are no victims here." Those words came to me today as I walked.

I am not a victim of circumstances or of anyone else's decisions. I am responsible for my life and have made choices that made sense at each point along the way. I can only be where I am right now. My fear is that I will disrupt the balance of my life if I follow through with what I want to do. I have been spinning in place, putting off moving forward because I do not know what will happen. There is no way I can know what will happen. My planning abilities are no help now.

My body is sending messages loud and clear. The hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety attacks, and racing thoughts are signals that I am ignoring what I know in an attempt to maintain the status quo. I feel much better on the days that I go with my gut and ignore the negative voice in my head. To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, I can't think myself out of a problem or into a purpose. Those things have to come from within.

As long as I keep shutting myself down I will continue to feel lost and the physical symptoms will rule. If I want to get on the other side of this I need to get out of my own way, one step at a time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Born Analogy

A friend gave me this cup for my 40th birthday.
It mirrors how I'm feeling ~

Last night I couldn't shake the words "giving birth to herself," the words Christiane Northrup, M.D. uses to describe menopause. I have been reading other women's blogs where they write about childbirth, so the topic has been on my mind. I have racked my brain for any similarity between the birth process and how I'm feeling, and I got nothin'.

This morning I pulled out Dr. Northrup's book The Wisdom of Menopause, which I read five years ago, to see what I've forgotten. On page 7 she writes, "Compared to when they were in their twenties, thirties, and forties, they [women] felt their lives had improved in many ways, including family life, interests, friendships, and their relationship with their spouse or partner." So that's it - that's what is supposed to be happening right now. Well, I've been in menopause almost four years, and I'm still waiting.

I have one friend who hates whining and one who doesn't like complaining, so I am trying real hard not to do either. But I am at a loss right now for what to do next. This isn't a new or exciting time for me. I have been putting one foot in front of the other, keeping my mind open, and saying yes when an opportunity arises. Right now I feel sad and alone.

I tried to follow a dream in 2005 when I went back to school for a degree in social work, a degree I had started 30 years earlier. It seemed like a good time in my life to change careers. I learned that I didn't want to do clinicial social work but that I loved organizational and community practice. The program was a disappointment, but I met some good people and followed through because it felt like the right thing to do....

In the middle of my second year of school, Ken and I moved. If I had been alone, or if Ken hadn't been so unhappy in the old house, I never would have moved. At each point along the way I thought something would happen that would keep us where we were, but the universe had other plans and propelled us forward. I wish I knew why....

I knew with the completion of my degree and the move that changes were inevitable. I had the support of the massage therapist I consider my friend and have seen for ten years; I started seeing an acupuncturist for help with symptoms of menopause, and I began to feel better. These two women have seen the changes in me and have supported my body, mind, and spirit through the work I've done. I couldn't have come this far without their help.

In the past year I have confronted the changes in my life and found ways to adapt. I have learned to bite my tongue so I don't ask questions of or offer advice to my children, at least not as often as I used to. I've applied for jobs to work with homelessness, hospice, health care, hunger, research, policy, and ethics. And each time it didn't happen I thought that there was probably a good reason so I found other things to do. There are two possibilities floating around now, and I need to summon the energy to follow up. It's easier to not know than to hear again that it's not going to work out.

Ken is trying to be supportive. I know he loves me. He tells me I am his best friend. The difference is that he has a job he likes and people to talk to all day long. Ken works hard and provides well for this family. His job has been a priority for 22 years. Over the years his work has involved travel, and there were many evenings he was not home. I would ask if he could be present for an event or occasion, and his reply would be, "I will be there if I'm home." The children and I learned to manage. I knew I had to be available 24/7. It was always okay with the kids because, "Dad has a job and he has to work." In the beginning I told Ken everything that happened while he was gone. Once I was back in school, and later working, there was less time to catch up and more time needed to deal with all that was going on. I once explained to a woman that Ken often worked out of town for days at a time, and she asked me if each week-end was like a honeymoon. I tried to control the look on my face, but her response of "Oh, I guess not" said it all.

Ken never worried about the kids or the house. He knew I would take care of whatever needed to be done. I became self-sufficient. If I couldn't fix something, I found someone who could. It felt good to be able to rely on myself. It didn't feel good that I couldn't rely on my husband to be there if I needed him. We have often talked about that. I have been honest about the changes that created for me in our relationship, and Ken was willing to accept the trade-off. We still love each other and have figured out how to make life together work for more than 30 years. We have more time to talk these days but less to talk about....

I have friends, most of whom are in different parts of the country. And I know people are busy. I haven't given up looking for a team, whatever form that may take. In the meantime I feel isolated. I feel a connection with women whose blogs I have started reading, but they "live in the computer." I am grateful when people respond to this blog with an email, phone call, or comment.

I know there are other women out there going through what I am. It's not something we talk about because the books tell us how to do this right, so we should be able to follow the steps. The women I see on television "find themselves" with a few days at a spa or a head-to-toe make-over. I'm happy for them. What about the rest of us? I want to keep my gray hair and my husband. My favorite clothes are hand-me-downs from my daughter and pieces I've bought on clearance. So what does that say about me? And if giving birth to myself meant that I had someone to take care of me round-the-clock, that would be great ~ I have often said I'd like to have a car mechanic, IT specialist, gourmet cook, and personal shopper at my beck and call. Would they also be my friend and help me discover my purpose? No? I didn't think so.

So the journey continues. And I have laundry to do....

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 2

One year ago today my daughter graduated from medical school. Whatever you have heard about how difficult medical school is, multiply that by ten and that's how hard it really is. You have to be smart, really really smart, to get into medical school. Then you have to stay that smart while you ENDURE all that is required of you in classes, school politics, and "hoop jumping." And that is just the first two years. At UNECOM, students are responsible for planning monthly rotations for years three and four, including making arrangments and/or payment for housing and food. Graduation does not just mark the completion of medical school ~ in my daughter's case it was a testament to her strength, integrity, and ability to persevere.

For weeks before graduation my daughter told us the ceremony was on June 3. Then a friend of hers checked the school's website and learned graduation was on June 2. When she told me, I said that of course it was on June 2. That was the date of my Aunt Kate's birthday....

Born Mary Catherine Frank, my Aunt Kate was actually my great-aunt. She raised my mom from the age of 5 and was for all intents and purposes my grandmother. I could not have loved her more. She was a positive presence and provided a safe haven in my life.

Aunt Kate graduated from college, the only college graduate in a family of farmers. She was a teacher before she married, a profession she picked up again years later. I learned about the value of education from her. Although she did not see me graduate from college, she knew before she died that I had returned to college for a degree in education. She was proud of me, and she would have celebrated the accomplishments of my own children with cards, carefully chosen presents, and phone calls.

Like many people of her generation, she didn't have an easy life. She knew about ration stamps during WWII and doing what she needed to do to scratch out a living for herself and her family. Aunt Kate also knew how to manage money, however much she had. When she returned to teaching, she set a little bit aside each week. Eventually she would have enough saved for new carpet or a dining room table and hutch. Before I left for college she gave me several crisp one hundred dollar bills, fresh from storage in the freezer.

Aunt Kate liked Ken from the beginning. She had grilled me about where his people were from and where he attended church. Ken liked to eat and Aunt Kate liked to cook, so they hit it off. She did not approve when we moved in together, but she still loved us and would call early on Sunday mornings to see if we were going to church. From Aunt Kate I learned about unconditional love.

There were things we didn't agree on and things we didn't talk about. She had strong opinions. She was a staunch Republican and believed that Nixon had been framed. Aunt Kate accepted people she knew personally but didn't always understand the way our society was changing. She read the newspaper, listened to the news, and watched "Lawrence Welk" every Saturday night.

Aunt Kate did not have an easy life. She grew up in rural Virginia, made her own clothes, canned her own food, and knew how to stretch a dollar. Waste not, want not described the way she lived her life. For my wedding she bought a gown and had her hair done, an indication of just how much the day meant to her. We had a photo taken of her and my uncle, all dressed up, and framed it for them.

My great-aunt never made the trip to Maine. She talked about it, but it was much farther than the trip she and my uncle took to Amish country in Lancaster, PA. When I asked my uncle about bringing Aunt Kate to see me, because she didn't often drive, he said that I lived too far out west. I settled for sending them photos and visiting as often as I could.

Yes, I think of Aunt Kate on June 2. Last year was especially sweet because I knew Aunt Kate would appreciate that my daughter graduated from medical school on her great-great-aunt's birthday.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sex, Maid, and Evie

*Note: I will not divulge even one tiny teeny bit of the of the storyline...

If you know, want to meet, or ever thought you might like to learn more about the women of Sex and the City, go see the movie. It was even better than I thought it would be, and I expected it to be good. I want to see it again in the theater, which is equivalent to an A+ on my movie rating scale.

I love movies and often find morsels of wisdom in the dialogue. When something particulary strikes my fancy, I write it down. I have two morsels to share:

Five years ago today I saw Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez. Her character, Marissa, is a woman who is caught up in playing someone other than herself, and she is about to be found out. Lionel, a wise older employee at the same fancy hotel, says to her, "Sometimes we're forced in directions that we ought to have found for ourselves," and "What defines us is how well we rise after falling." Those words struck me today as I find myself in a totally different place from where I thought I'd be and struggling to get my bearings.

The other morsel is from a movie I saw on DVD last week, Driving Lessons, which I recommend if you have any appreciation of British comedy. The movie is about a young man, Ben, who goes to work for a retired actress, Evie. They have a series of adventures which include camping. Early one morning Evie calls Ben to come look at the scene outside their tent. She says, "Life is confusing. Just when we think it's all over it throws a view like this [majestic mountains reflected in a river] at us and we don't know where we are." That has happened to me ~ I feel like giving up to then have something unexpected happen to change my perspective.