Friday, February 26, 2010

More Than A Rainstorm

Heavy rain fell all day Thursday. By late afternoon flood warnings were flashing across the television screen. By nightfall the wind had picked up; we heard today that there were gusts of more than 50 mph. After midnight our lights flickered. Ken was on his way home from work in New Hampshire, and I was waiting up for him. I felt like I was caught in a wind tunnel and worried we might lose power, though we never did. We got to bed late, and at 1:45 a.m there was a power surge that lit up the thermostat in our bedroom and shut clocks off all over the house. Fifteen minutes later there was a thunderous crash, and I was sure a tree had fallen on the house. I got up and walked from room to room, looking out windows but seeing nothing other than small branches sent airborne and tree tops waving for all they were worth. This morning we discovered the source of the thunderous crash ~ just a few feet from our power line the topmost portion of a pine tree was completely separated from the trunk~

Until last night, it was a really tall pine tree ~

We then walked a half mile down our road to find the stream over its banks ~

Water rushing under the bridge ~

And making its way to the river that feeds Merrymeeting Bay ~

Then we noticed that our neighbors just beyond the bridge lost their barn in the storm ~

Tonight we have neighbors who are still without power. Throughout southern Maine trees have taken out power lines, fallen on houses, and made roads impassable. Again we are reminded of the power that nature wields over our environment.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Third Of Three

This evening my youngest called to ask if I had filed the FAFSA. Unlike most states that set a May 1 deadline, Massachusetts wants the FAFSA filed by March 1. The last week of February the university emails students to remind them, to remind their parents, that the deadline is fast approaching.

This was the third time my youngest child called me this week. It is unusual to hear from him that often but this is the time of year when decisions need to be made. His first call was to ask what the budget looks like for next year's housing; he is one of the lucky seniors to get housing and garnered one of the earliest slots to choose the dorm where he would like to live. This is the first time he has a group of friends who would like to live together, and they have a chance at some of the nicer dorms.

His second call was to let me know that housing costs will be higher than posted online. There is an increase every year, but I appreciated him letting me know. He is cognizant of what school costs because he saves most of the money he makes when he has a co-op semester to help pay the bills, a major portion of the bills. That was the deal we struck when he chose Northeastern, and he has graciously accepted his share of the financial responsibilities.

This is the last time I will file a FAFSA for one of my children. These are the last conversations we will have about dorm selection. These are good things. These are signs of growing up and moving on ~ my son... and me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Maine Balsam Fir

I met a remarkable woman yesterday. She spoke during the second follow-up session for my entrepreneurship skills class.

In 1983 Wendy Newmeyer started a business. She and her husband, Jack, had moved to western Maine six years earlier, and they were running out of money. They had acres and acres of Maine balsam fir trees and sold the fir as raw material. Then Wendy got an idea ~ she could make small pillows, filled with the balsam fir, to sell in local stores. She spent two days a week traveling to stores to ask if they would sell her products. The rest of the week she worked twenty hours a day making pillows.

Today her business, Maine Balsam Fir Products, is an example of what's possible when someone has a vision and the determination to make it real.

Wendy works hard, enjoys what she does, changes what stops working, has developed an incredible sense for business, schedules time to do what she loves, and is willing to share everything she knows with prospective small business owners.

She held me and my classmates spellbound with her stories of success and failure. She shared moments when opportunities seemed to fall in her lap, as well as disappointments that didn't keep her down. It was easy to see that her sense of humor, optimism, work ethic, and can-do attitude are elements of her success.

Wendy began her talk with a question: why are people so afraid of failure? She didn't have an answer because she doesn't understand that fear. Wendy didn't have the luxury of fretting about whether or not she could make a go of her business idea. She and her husband were living on $500 a month and weren't sure they would be able to stay in the Maine woods that they loved so much.

Wendy had an idea, found a way to make it work, and today is recognized as one of the state's most successful small business owners. She is proud of her business, enjoys travel with her husband, and talks about ideas for future products.

All of us were inspired by Wendy's story. She stressed that each of us has a unique path to follow. The bottom line is that it is up to each one of us to find a way to make our idea work. We can't know everything before we start, and we will make mistakes. We will learn along the way, ask for help when we need it, and keep going if we want to succeed.

Wendy invited us to visit her store and factory in West Paris, Maine. I plan to take her up on that invitation once the roads have recovered from winter's frost heaves. I think by spring I will be ready for another shot of inspiration.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

To The Ocean

Ken and I drove to the ocean today, to Popham Beach, our favorite place. We were surprised by what we saw when we walked a mile south on the beach. A river that flows to the ocean has changed course to carve a channel, and sandbars have been created in a quiet inlet ~

created with sand taken from dunes along the beach ~

While nature has taken the upper hand, humans have made an attempt to protect the dunes with a buffer zone of fallen trees ~
We left the dunes behind and walked a mile north on open beach. We looked back at the sun shining on the water and marveled at nature's power ~

On the way home we managed to find a little place recommended by a friend. A pleasant surprise, North Creek Farm is a wonderful spot for lunch.

A trip to the ocean renews my spirit.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hemmed And Belted

Last year I heard the term "Mom Jeans" for the first time.

What are Mom Jeans?

I am a mom, and I wear jeans. So....

From what I can gather, "Mom Jeans" are the jeans that fit at, or a bit below, the waist. These are the jeans that middle-aged women wear, the jeans that we've been wearing for thirty years.

The problem is that any jeans that fit anywhere near your waist are no longer in fashion.

So I have been attempting to update my wardrobe.

If you buy jeans in the store, you can forgo looking at the numbers and just buy jeans that fit, providing there are stores near your town that sell the latest styles in a variety of sizes. I happened upon a great sale at JCPenney just before Christmas and bought two pair of corduroy jeans. They sit low, but my daughter advised me that they are in style. It has taken me this long to hem them up, but I now own dark brown and camel-colored corduroy jeans that do not fall into the "Mom Jeans" category.

Finding a new pair of blue jeans took more work. I had no luck in the stores.

When you order jeans online or out of a catalog, the measurements are still for your "waist" and "hips." There is no measurement for the area that falls three inches below your waistline, which is where the stylish jeans of today are worn.

In other words, it's hit or miss.

I finally ordered a pair online from Eddie Bauer, which surprisingly are the right length.

The jury is still out on whether or not they fit just right. Machine washing and drying has certainly helped.

The problem is that they don't sit anywhere near my waistline, which in my experience is where jeans need to sit to stay up without a belt. Humph.

I don't always want to wear a belt. Or at least I didn't used to.

I need a belt with these new jeans. I guess that's a small price to pay to not be accused of wearing "Mom Jeans."

It's a lot of work to stay in style these days.

With my belief that I will be middle-aged until I'm 70, I have years of work ahead of me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Growth

Last year's gray, rainy summer days produced a leggy, flowerless hibiscus ~

that bloomed on the day of December's first snow ~
and needed a major February pruning before this year's growing season ~

which has begun ~
Yesterday I noticed the new growth on the hibiscus that I pruned two weeks ago. I have never cut the plant back this far, worried that I might somehow damage it. This time my feeling was 'oh well, it's time for a fresh start.' Sure enough, there are dozens of new sprouts all over the plant. It works to cut out what's not growing strong and full; it's hard to predict where the new growth will take hold. With my hibiscus plant, as in my life, there comes a time when it's necessary to cut out everything that isn't thriving to make room for new growth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Dreamed A Dream

Susan Boyle has released her first CD.  I think her voice is amazing.  

I recently saw Oprah interview Susan Boyle, who showed incredible poise.  She is handling her newly found fame with grace and humor.  Susan has found a way to remain true to herself while she navigates the maze of celebrity and shares her talent with the world.

That is no small task.

Why are some people able to make the best of what life has to offer, while others suffer under the weight of daily living?

Today a friend sent me an email with the words of the song from Les Miserables that Susan Boyle has made famous all over again.  I share it here in memory of those who have not been able to hold the tigers at bay.

I Dreamed A Dream
as sung by Susan Boyle

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I prayed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
And they turn your dream to shame
Still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

The music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with orchestrations by John Cameron. The English lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer, based on the originalFrench libretto by Alain Boublil.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Next 54

I think middle-age begins at 30 and ends at 70.

My husband thinks that's funny.

I tell him that I plan to live to be 100, so I consider middle-age to be the middle 40 years.

Because I am now a little more than halfway through middle-age, I need all the years I can get to do all I want to do.

I still want a  job.  When I look back at all the letters of application and resumes I have sent out in the last two years, it makes me want to cry.  I have exhausted all my resources, have even applied to some places more than once, so it's time to stop.  I am deeply disappointed, but it's time to move on.

I am almost ready to announce my small business.  It has been two steps forward and one step back, but I have made progress.  I am staying with it because nothing else has come to fruition. I have no excuse not to keep working at it.

I look back at posts from a year ago and remember where I thought I was headed.

The course has changed.  

The destination is unknown.

The journey continues....  

Monday, February 8, 2010

What Is Left Behind

There are stories that are not mine to tell.

There are subjects that need to be addressed, no matter how uncomfortable they make me.

I pay attention when these two categories cross paths because that rarely happens.

When a story is not mine, I keep it to myself.  When a burning topic makes me uncomfortable, I find a way to write about part of it, or I find a personal perspective that makes it palatable.

This time there is no such shortcut.

A dear friend of mine is living with what remains after a tragic loss.  She was removed from the situation, but now she is at the center.

With the grace of an angel, my friend has stepped into the eye of the storm to calm the fears and soothe the hurts.

With the wisdom of ten women, my friend is organizing the chaos and making sense of the randomness.

When I asked how I can help, she asked only for my prayers.

When I asked what I can do, she asked me to do two things.

First ~
Send out the word to everyone you know...if they don't have a will in place, make one before the end of the month.  If they do, be sure it's current.

Ken and I had wills drawn up in 1991.  Some event spurred us into action, although I don't remember exactly what happened.  Our main concerns were assigning guardianship for our children and designating someone to handle the finances.  Today our children are adults so we need to revisit the provisions we made and evaluate if they still fit our family's needs.

Second ~
Keep things [paperwork, files, accounts] organized in case anyone needs to come in and pick up the pieces for you.  Pass it on and save a family's agony.

Some of you may remember that I have been working to streamline my family's accounts since last summer.  It has been a process of trial and error.  I realized that we need to have the online option to view and pay bills, as well as the monthly statements that come in the mail.  Each family is different, but that is what works best for Ken and me.  I want to invest in one fireproof lock box that will hold the legal papers so that everything is in one place.  In general terms I have talked with my children to show them where things are but, as is true with the rest of us, this will take more than one run-through and regular updates.

These are not easy topics to talk about.  

If we don't talk about it, who will? 

If we don't take care of it now, who will have to pick up the pieces after we're gone?

There are hard questions that may not have easy answers.  We can start simply and work our way through the process, one step at a time.  
Each journey begins with a single step.   

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Our Children Are Not Ours

I am easing into February this year.

In the past I have had high expectations for this month, the bridge between the coldest days of winter and the promise of spring.

This year February feels like a place to rest, a chance to accept where I am right now.

Much has shifted and changed in the past year, particularly my role in the lives of my children.

In the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the past of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows
may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1966.