Thursday, July 31, 2008

How We Get Where We Want To Be

Last Friday, after our meeting with my new financial advisor, Ken and I had a chance to walk the streets of Portland. We don't often get down that way together, so we took advantage of the opportunity.

There is a bookstore where I always stop when I am in that part of the city. I walked in the door, took a few steps to the left, and found myself in front of the shelves of poetry. There, perched on a stand, was a book of poetry by the principal who first hired me to teach. I was speechless. I knew he had been writing since before I met him. Years ago I ran into him at a track meet and learned he was returning to graduate school for a Master of Fine Arts degree. According to the back of the book, he earned that degree and now teaches creative writing and American literature at a high school. I stood there and marveled at his name on the cover.

I know bits and pieces of his story. I know it wasn't easy for him to return to school. I know it was what he always wanted and that he is now doing what he loves to do ~ write poetry and teach. It took years of hard work. It meant he had to face hard truths and make tough decisions. I am proud to know him, and I hope he's happy.

I bought an autographed copy of his book. I enjoy his writing, but I bought his book for a reason larger than his poems. I bought the thin volume to keep on my desk to remind me of what is possible. I bought it because it is a symbol of what happens when a person figures out how to get where they want to be, whether or not anyone else believes that it's possible.

I started this post with a question for the title. I've since changed that question to a statement. I know how I will get where I want to be: with hard work, facing the truth, making tough decisions, and believing that it's possible.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Last Lesson of Randy Pausch

*Note: My latest post at 50-something moms blog: Lessons I Learned About Kids and Computers. Also, I am now listed as a contributor under the "About Us" tab on the 50-something moms site. Check it out!

At the moment I am breathless and sweating. I went down to the end our our driveway to pick up the paper and leave letters in the mailbox. Then I just took off walking, as fast I could go. I needed time to reflect and talk to myself. What did I want to write about the death of Randy Pausch?

Earlier this summer Diane Sawyer did a special report for ABC about Randy Pausch and his Last Lecture. If you don't know, Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year at age 47, married 8 years with three small children. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and gave a lecture, that was to be his last, about the lessons of life. The talk was meant for his children, to be guidance for them when he was no longer there. Through the magic of the internet his lecture was launched to the world and received with open arms.

I learned on Sunday that Randy Pausch died Friday, July 25. I was deeply saddened. It is one thing to know that someone has a terminal illness but something else altogether when that person dies. Last night Diane Sawyer hosted a special update on Randy's last days. He talked about his last trip to the hospital and was shown at home playing with his children and hugging his wife. I held it together until the show flashed back to the end of his lecture when he says, "It's not about your dreams. It's about how you lead your life."

Randy did not know how many days he had left. He made the point that none of us know. It's what he continued to do, right up until his last day on earth, that is the lesson for all of us: he lived his life. His words had a huge impact on me. The video of him laughing with his family at the end of his life made those words real. His dreams did not matter at the point, but how he led his life did.

On today's walk I reminded myself that on Monday's walk I said I was ready for whatever came next. I asked for opportunities to open up and present themselves. That afternoon I read about a contest for an innovation grant on Jamie's blog, where she generously shares whatever she knows with her readers. Monday evening I checked a job board I had bookmarked and found a new job listed that interests me. These were opportunities to pursue my business and apply for a part-time job in my field.

I wasn't home yesterday because I had a hair cut, an acupuncture appointment, and errands to run. During my acupuncture treatment I had a moment where I knew "what to do next" would come to me. I came home to find encouraging words from readers and helpful ideas from a girlfriend who keeps saying, "Absolutely, go for it!"

So I am going for it. I am going to enter the contest for that grant and apply for that job. The journey continues....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Difference Is Night and Day

I like to stay up late. I always have. Whether a result of parental habits or genetics, I am a night owl.

I feel most productive at night. It is under the cover of night when I think most clearly and feel most comfortable in my own skin. I have had the day to work out the kinks and clear away the worries. I finally begin to feel settled and calm, and I realize it's 9:00 at night. My husband is getting ready for bed, and I'm just getting started.

Some nights I hate to go to bed because I know I have to start the process all over again in the morning. And if I haven't been sleeping well, which I haven't, the last thing I want is to climb into bed, where I toss and turn and confront circular thinking. When sleep finally comes, it is with bizarre dreams and images that provide no comfort and answer no questions. Then I struggle to awake in the morning to start the cycle anew.

Today Ken and I went for a four-mile walk on the rail trail along the river. The sun was hot, and the breeze was strong. It felt good to stretch my legs, swing my arms, and wipe sweat from my forehead. I needed to be outside, to move and not think. We inspected a new pier on the river. We sidestepped bicycles on the path.

Then, after our walk, we stopped for sweets and a cold drink in an air-conditioned diner. In the ladies room I was stung by a bee, which struck me as odd since I had just spent an hour outside with nary an insect present. Outside came in....

And inside went out with the work we did on the porch yesterday. We want to enjoy the space so we cleared away the cobwebs and carted away the clutter. We centered a wooden bench for the view down the driveway and stood back to admire the result. It works as an outside living space, under cover from the sun and the rain.

So the days move along and the nights crawl by. Since there is no good time to start the day, I may as well stay up late. Then sleep will come more quickly and I can start again tomorrow....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Finally, A Meeting of Three

Sometimes, if something is going to happen at all, it has to happen quickly. Each time I have talked with my new financial advisor, she has suggested she meet with Ken and me together to get a sense of what our priorities are. Well, trying to set up a meeting with Ken is like trying to predict the weather ~ he rarely knows more than a day or two in advance what his schedule is. For 22 years the stock phrase has been, "I will be there if I'm home." Consequently, I have been dragging my feet in planning a meeting for the three of us.

So I wasn't surprised when the idea of a meeting came up yesterday; she called to see if I had any questions about the transfer of my accounts to her management firm. I received the paperwork this week, and I was impressed that she followed up with a phone call. When she mentioned again that she wanted to meet with Ken and me together, I was polite, without a clue about when such a meeting could happen. I asked her what days were good for her, and she said it varied from week to week and sometimes it worked to plan just a day or two in advance, which was music to my ears.

When Ken got home yesterday, I mentioned the phone call from my financial advisor [I just like the way that sounds] and how she would like to schedule a meeting in her office. Then Ken said he would be working down that way on Friday. Really? I gave her a call and left a message, and she called this morning to say this afternoon worked for her, too. Really? It had all come together in less than 24 hours.

Alrighty then. We had a plan, which only needed a slight modification when Ken rushed home to shower and change and ride down with me...but that kind of adjustment has become part and parcel of the way we do things. I called ahead to say we might be a few minutes late, but we arrived right on time [I find that a call ahead to say I may be late is the surest way to get someplace on time].

Now I was nervous for a variety of reasons. First, what would Ken think of the woman I have selected to handle my retirement accounts? Second, what would the woman who now knows intimate details of my financial life think of my husband and how we interact as a couple? And third, what would my new financial advisor think about our financial situation as a midlife couple who is just now coming to grips with what life will look like when Ken reaches retirement age? It was a lot to contemplate. I was grateful I had less than 24 hours to consider the possible answers to these questions.

There was nothing to worry about. Once again I was struck by the sincere, gentle approach of this woman I trust to manage my money. She asks the right questions and listens to the answers. Her positive attitude always puts me at ease. She talked about interweaving my accounts with Ken's to create a complete picture of what we have and what we need. She said that we are in this together, and that is just what I needed to hear.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Making a Mess of Things

I just left a comment on a blog I visited for the first time and unintentionally published it three times. Aaarrrrgggghhhhh. That's never happened before. I feel frazzled and embarrassed. I need to take a step back.

It could be all the sugar I'm consuming: homemade bread pudding, Sam's Club coconut cake, homemade cookies, store-bought turnovers, strawberry licorice. Yesterday my daughter bought me a sugar cookie, and I gobbled it right up and followed with a chaser of McD's sweet tea. When in a funk, eat sugar? Rationally I know that's the worse thing for me. But it all tastes so good. The short-lived sugar high that follows is working for me, while nothing else is.

The cloudy days and periods of torrential rain are not helping. Outside painting has been delayed indefinitely.

My daughter gave me a book, Good Poems for Hard Times selected by Garrison Keillor. I first looked for a poem by Mary Oliver and found one of my favorites (p. 281-282), When Death Comes. It's the end that always gets me:

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

That's a long way from making a mess of things. Oh, I have so much work to do to get where I want to be. Where to begin? Well, for now I'm going to have some bread pudding, a small bowl.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Cloudy Tuesday

This afternoon I learned the status of the job I applied for three weeks ago. I didn't get the job because, after all was said and done, the position wasn't created. The idea, which I helped develop, was for the non-profit organization that represents social workers to have a legislative advocate work with the organization's board, and the membership, to shape the legislative agenda that social workers in the state say they want. Then the person would have worked with state legislators on behalf of social workers and their clients.

I am disappointed because I wanted the job but also because I think the work is important.

Organizational change is hard. It takes leadership, vision, patience, and persistence. Often it's easier for someone on the outside to see what's possible and what's necessary for the possibilities to become reality. The people on the inside hold all the cards, and they decide who to let in or keep out. I am weary of being kept out.

When I was a teen-ager, I told my father that I wanted to be a boss someday. I wasn't being arrogant. I know how to treat people, and I know how to get a job done. While I attend to details, I can see the big picture and plan a course of action. I think it's time for me to put my talents to work, which may mean that I need to start working for myself. I do not know what shape that may take, but I'm putting it out there.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

There were thunderstorms Friday and Saturday and periods of steady rain yesterday. More rain last night and today. And it's a Monday, which means it's time to start another week.

Yesterday morning had a unique start ~ my daughter and I attended a 9:40 a.m. showing of Mamma Mia! and we loved it! The movie is a virtual feast of color, music, dancing, singing, scenery, and fun. Some critics have said it has too much singing. Really? It's a musical! Meryl Streep is fabulous. She sings, dances, and looks fantastic ~ a great role model for women my age. The movie made me want to bounce on my bed, or at the very least dance around the house to upbeat music.

I came home yesterday to Ken making cookies, which was a surprise. He said he wanted to make the house smell good. Okay by me, with a full cookie jar to boot. He can bake and cook, but he rarely does. Ken always sifts the flour so he gets different results than I do.

For two people who have been together as long as Ken and I have, I am still surprised by how differently we approach things. We come at issues and projects with different strategies and expectations. Over the years we have done our best problem solving while we were doing home improvements because we had to work together; even as disagreements arose we had to work them out or the project wouldn't get finished. I'm thinking about this now because we're at a point where we could use a good project to get some things worked out. It's not that anything is wrong. It is that things feel unsettled and uncertain.

Maybe it's me, or maybe it's him, or maybe it's us. Hopefully it will pass. In any event, today is a rainy day and a Monday, and I have plenty of inside projects to keep me busy. One foot in front of the other....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In Four Days

I will find out on Tuesday if I have my dream job. I thought a lot about whether or not I wanted to tell anyone exactly when I would find out. Then I emailed a few friends, and surprisingly I felt better when I saw the words on the screen. It made it real. It also helped me get out of my head and shooed away some of the unproductive thinking. However, I'm taking a risk in telling people because it's out there in the open now.

"Putting it out there" is a fairly new strategy for me. I have figured for most of my life that the best way to get through is to stay out of the way and not draw attention to myself. If I'm not bothering anyone, no one will bother me. If I have a valid point to make, I will clearly lay out my thinking with evidence to back it up. If necessary, I quietly go through the proper channels to work for change. Sometimes this strategy works and sometimes it doesn't, but it causes the least amount of upheaval and hurt feelings.

Plus, if someone knows what I'm thinking they might disagree with me. My rational self can deal with conflict and knows how to barter a deal. My personal self does not like confrontation and will do all it can to work things out another way. When things get personal, I get worried and anxious: Will I say the wrong thing? Will they still like me? Will they tell other people what they think of me?

I can stand up for any issue I believe in and make the arguments necessary to make my point. I firmly believe in dialogue and collaboration and compromise - around issues. I am willing to go to the mat for something I believe in.

And it's not that I can't stand up for myself when I have to, because I have done that and I've taken some hits in the process. When it gets to the point where I have nothing to lose, I will take the risk and make myself known.

As I get older I am finding more instances where I have nothing to lose. If not now, when? What image of myself am I holding onto that is so important that I don't want to share my real self or risk finding out what others think of me? What am I saving for later?

This could be part of that "finding your voice" in menopause that I've heard so much about. Is it that we don't have the energy to keep up the facade? Is it that putting it out there helps move things along so we can get on with the business of living? Is it that we know that this, too, shall pass? Or is it all of these things and everything else we've learned along the way?

If we're lucky, we realize where we've been and can see where we want to go. If we are really lucky, we still have time for the journey to continue.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

*Note: My latest post is up at 50-something moms blog Massage Therapy and Acupuncture: Priceless.

On Monday and Tuesday this week I spent time at my daughter's house, aka my house for 28 years. Periodically I go over to work on projects and help out. It's a good arrangement: my daughter likes to have someone visit with the cats, and I get the chance to spend time in a place that still feels like home.

It has occurred to me that my investment in that house was my contribution to our family's stability. As our family grew, I always found a way to make room. Basic upkeep and decorating were under my jurisdiction, and I learned how to make the most of every square inch. As our family's needs changed, I rearranged furniture and re-purposed spaces. Ken and I made the den our room for 12 years because we needed a third bedroom; one friend could not believe that our room didn't have a door or a closet. We made it work because it was the best set-up for our family of five.

In that house I felt self-sufficient. I could manage the house and yard on my own when it was necessary. I felt safe there, and it's comforting to be able to return now. My daughter appreciates my visits, and I am grateful that I still have access to the house that was my home for so many years.

I moved out of my parents' house when I was 19. I didn't look back when I left, and I never thought of it as home again. Though I have been back to visit, I've only stayed there a handful of times in the last 33 years. I left that house for reasons much different than the reasons I moved from the home I owned for 28 years.

Still, only our youngest child will ever call the new house "home," as in he actually spent time living here. Our time here marks a new stage in our lives, as individuals and a family. We are a family of grown-ups, and the memories made here remind me of that. To find my days as a new wife and the mother of young children I have to look elsewhere.

And maybe that is at the heart of why it has been so hard for me to settle into this new house ~ I am not sure who I am here. I don't have a history to fall back on, and my role is not clear. Wife of 30 years? Mother of adult children? Those positions don't come with job descriptions or required daily tasks, and there are no answers to be found in the open sunlit rooms of the new house.

Baby steps. As I left my daughter's house the other evening, I made a mental list of the things I needed to do when I got home. Home, as in where I live now. The journey continues....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Painting Progress

One project finished ~

And a second project is ongoing ~

Tuesday: Today I finished the dresser I started working on several days ago. My daughter is pleased with the results, and that's what matters. I kept trying to get the smoothest possible finish on the top, and today I called it good . The white ceramic knobs are the perfect complement to the Man on the Moon paint and add a classy finishing touch.
Monday a week ago: Now if the painting-of-the-railing was moving along as well, I would be a happy woman. With two days drying time allowed after the power washing, I pre-primed all the bare spots early last week. The next day I planned to lightly sand a few spots and start painting...until I realized that half the railing had not been cleaned. Hmmmm. Seems that the power-washer project director decided that the entire railing did not need his attention. That's odd since the painting project director was explicit about what was required so she could continue with her part of the project, the part that protects the wood and makes the railing usable for years to come. Several hours later the railing was completely prepped - and ready for paint another day.
Wednesday: Enter the hottest and most humid day of the summer, a good day to work on the dresser in the shade....
Thursday: The weather was agreeable, and two sections of railing (see photo above) got their long-awaited coat of primer-and-paint-in-one. The results did not disappoint - the ultra white satin finish is worth all the clean up I have to do (on myself because I am a messy painter and anything with primer in it sticks like glue). The downside is that each section takes two hours to paint.
Friday dawned cloudy and warm, the desired meteorological combination for staining a deck. So Ken took advantage of the weather and gave the deck a coat on Friday and again on Saturday, which required another 48 hours to dry.
Still to come: And painting took a backseat again....Until tomorrow when I will persevere and start the day early with paint brush in hand. There will be a bar-b-que to celebrate the completion of this project, sometime this summer, and it will be a happy time because there will be cocktails and dessert selected to meet the specifications of the painting project director....

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Betwixt and Between

That phrase aptly describes where I am right now: in an intermediate position; neither altogether one nor altogether the other.

I didn't sleep well last night and got up this morning determined to find words to describe how I'm feeling. As I slowly started my day, the words "betwixt and between" came to mind. Oddly enough, it made me feel better to put words to it ~ I know that I don't know where I am in my life.

But I had a plan! Or I thought I had a plan. I went back to school for an MSW so I could work with individuals and small groups. Mid-stream I decided I wanted to work in the areas of policy and research with organizations and communities, still a good plan. The glitch has been getting a job with an organization or community, a job I need to do the work I want to do. My most recent job application would satisfy all the criteria for my dream job...and I'm still waiting to hear.

In the meantime I have been reading Woulda Coulda Shoulda , following different threads through her "hindsight" section. This week I focused on her Job?Huh? topic and was surprised to learn that after a tough year of unemployment she did get her dream job in February 2005. It lasted six months, at which point her boss told her it wasn't working out. It was then that she decided to write for a living and did all of the hard work needed to make that happen. She now has her personal blog, as well as a blog about shopping and one about working as a freelance writer. I have been captivated by her stories since I started reading her in May, but I didn't realize what she went through to get where she is today. She had a plan. That plan didn't work out so she made another one that did.

I don't know what I will do if my most recent plan doesn't work out. I can't think myself an answer. So I stay betwixt and between for the moment. And I still have painting to do, so my life has meaning.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gratitude Tuesday

I have some things to be grateful for today ~

The car that-almost-ran-out-of-oil is still on the road. Monday morning, with my hat in my hand, I introduced myself to the new mechanic. I hope I will not always be known as the woman who-let-her-oil-light-come-on. The first thing he asked was if the engine was making funny noises. No, it wasn't. That's a good thing. He said something about how they'd seen worse, which made me feel a tiny bit better. There were no leaks found, so it would seem that the car likes oil - who knew? We/I need to be more diligent about getting regular oil changes, and the car needs two tires and a front-end alignment. I can do that! And as is my custom after any car of mine has been through a trauma, I wipe down the steering wheel and dashboard to let her, in this case Loretta, know that I really do care. I am grateful and have uttered many "thank you's" to the powers-that-be.

On Sunday I spent the day at my daughter's house. That just sounds daughter's house. We had a project to start and, as with any project I start, things took much longer than planned. The goal was to take the knobs off an eight-drawer dresser, prime the drawer fronts and dresser, and paint the first coat (maybe). Well, four of the knobs would not come off...due to the carpenter's glue that was applied to the knobs to keep them from turning when that sounded like a good idea because the dresser would always be that color anyway. This is when the day really started to get good ~ my daughter and I figured out how to remove the knobs, all by ourselves, with tools. Yes, we did. We wound up sawing through the wood knob and breaking it into pieces so the wood could be pryed off the screw and the screw could be removed. Then we applied gooey primer - good primer because it covers all ills, but because it is good primer it gets gooey in the can. The fix for that is a light sanding before the first coat of paint, and that's an easy fix. Hopefully there will be a photo posted here later in the week of a freshly painted dresser, which will be adorned with ceramic knobs. I am grateful for the time with my daughter, working and talking and sharing and cooking.

Early Saturday morning Ken and I headed to Home Depot to pick up what we needed to stain the deck and paint the railing over the holiday week-end. Remember what I shared earlier? Yep, any project I start takes much longer than planned. This time Ken's contribution was the purchase of a power washer. Now this man has wanted a power washer for years, before he had anything that needed to be washed with power. He saw his chance, made his case for how easy it would be to prep the deck for stain, and I caved. Then I asked if he could also use it to prep the railing for paint, and he enthusiastically answered yes. It did work, but the wood takes 48 hours to completely dry before the application of the new finish. The work on Saturday pretty much shut down the project until Monday, which is when I primed the bare spots on the railing. Today I can start painting with a new primer-and-paint-in-one product that I found. That work-saving step is the silver lining to this cloud of endless railing to paint, and for that I am grateful. With luck, and continued good weather, I will have a photo of the newly painted railing to post by the week-end...

...which will only happen if I get started today....

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Care and Feeding of Cars

Note: New post up at 50-something moms blog Motherhood: The Career Path Taken.

Before he went to bed last night, my son told me that the oil light came on in the car he usually drives. Now what does that mean? No oil? Some oil? The need for a new engine? He took my car today and after my walk (yes, I am walking again) I checked the oil. It's one quart low. Phew! Emergency averted. And I even knew who to call. Two people recently told me good things about a garage right here in town, so I made an appointment for an oil change first thing Monday morning.

This incident lets me know that I'm still in charge of vehicle maintenance. This has been my job for longer than I care to remember. It's not a job I ever wanted, and it's one I would love to hand off to someone else. I don't know how cars work, I don't understand why they sometimes don't work, and I worry when there may be a problem. With the help of Eckhart, I know that worry accomplishes nothing, and I thought about that late into the night when my brain kept coming up with all the things that could be wrong with the car. My husband's mention of a possible "cracked engine block" did not help. [He drives a work vehicle and keeps it in tip-top shape.]

The funny thing is that as Supervisor of Vehicle Maintenance, it was on my radar that this particular car was due for an oil change. I checked last week and, sure enough, it's time. It's actually a little past time but not dangerously overdue yet. Again, I would rather have someone else thinking about these things, but that is obviously not going to happen.

What is going to happen is that I will remind my son that his driver education instructor spent one whole class teaching him how to not only check the oil but how to change it as well. If he wants, I will call her about a refresher course....

*Update: My husband came home with a quart of oil for the car. Still no oil showing on the dipstick...and the car took two more quarts of oil. Gulp. Fingers crossed everything checks out Monday. We both talked to the driver of the car about regularly checking the oil. I thanked my husband for his help, but he refused my offer to make him Supervisor.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


It will be two weeks before I know if I have the job that I applied for last week. I have "seen" myself in this job for the past three months, before the job even existed. This is the work that I want to do. If anyone asked me what I would do if I could do anything, this job would be my answer. I have sent my intention to the universe, kept a positive attitude, and made a follow-up phone call. Now the decision is out of my hands.

So I wait....

There is a scene in Out of Africa that has been on my mind lately. Meryl Streep's character, Karen Blitzen, says, "Men go off to be tested for courage, and if we're tested at all, it's for patience or doing without or how well we endure loneliness." Those words touch my heart every time I watch the movie. Having patience, doing without, and enduring loneliness, though not always seen in a positive light, can lend depth to an evolving life.

In this fast-paced world of instant messaging and texting, teleconferencing and faxes, where is there room for patience? The most meaningful thoughts are often born during moments of patient waiting. I am skilled at waiting for someone to think of what they want to say. My patience affords me the opportunity to hear what is eventually said. Waiting allows me to prepare for what happens next.

My patience during the past year has ushered me to this place in my life.

Doing without can be interpreted as lacking something, or it can be seen as making room for what is to come. I heard Martha Beck talk about clearing out the clutter of our lives as a way to make room for the positive things to come. I have been holding onto things lately, in part because I don't know what will come into my life if I make room. That doubt and fear will most certainly keep good things at bay, so it's time to let go.

I am going to willingly do without what I don't need to make room for the positive things to come.

One of the most difficult realities of my life at home the past year has been enduring loneliness. Before, when I had time at home, I had children to care for or I was involved in projects that demanded my attention for a specific amount of time. When I finished the MSW last spring and left a job last summer, I had no idea that I would be home alone for this long. Sometimes I have enjoyed the time alone. At other times I have been very lonely. It has been in the quiet of that loneliness that I have started to listen to my inner voice, finding the space and time to hear myself without distraction or interruption. For the most part, I hear myself asking questions. If I don't ask those questions, how will I know the answers?

Enduring loneliness has given me the chance to think about where I am and ask what is important to me.

I will wait patiently for what comes next.