Carve Out a Little Time

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“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”    ~Dolly Parton

I love my job. While I may not get excited to get up and leave before 7:30 in the morning, I enjoy the time I’m there and the people I’m with. I make a difference in the world, and that’s a good thing. That being said, I’m always happy to be home, to see my family, to feather my nest, create good things to eat, and share smiles and stories with the people I love.

So I don’t really understand this whole workaholic thing.

I don’t understand how making money beats making memories, or how giving your all to outsiders for 10… 12… 14 hours leaves you nothing to share with the people who love you. I understand the need to feel important and needed, just not how that need can be better filled by people who are benefiting financially from your attentions.

Living with someone who prioritizes work over family relationships takes a toll.

If you’re wondering if this is you, you can take this survey developed by Norwegian researchers called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale. Give yourself a score to each question with 1 being never and 5 being always. If you rank high, do your loved ones a favor and get some help.

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities and exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has influenced your health negatively.

And If you ever come back from a trip and go straight to work without unpacking your bags, it’s pretty likely you’re a workaholic.

In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: carve


New Year, New Hope

I vow now that the end of 2018 will not see me sitting on my couch watching a movie, just waiting for the sands on the year clock to run out. May 2018 be a year of renewal. May it bring with it a dedication to truth and authenticity, honest, heartfelt conversations, and clarity of thinking in the path forward. May the ghosts of all the years past not throw chains around this new year, and may patience turn to decisiveness.

To 2018!

Photo credit: maxxtraffic on / CC BY-SA


The Extravagance of Being

This is the season of giving, of depleting the savings accounts and trying to balance the scale between giving and receiving, of cordoning off time for family in the midst of a giant collective shove to propel the economy into the black for another year. It’s a season of rising joy, a half bell curve, where the post-holiday reality check smacks you like a fall to the pavement. Gifts received graciously, excitedly, are quickly used, worn, and eaten. Time passes, and those non-consumables are ultimately relegated to the back of the closet or the top shelf to gather dust before being hauled to the local donation center, making space for the cycle to begin again.

But what of the intangible.

My niece received the ultimate Christmas gift, or maybe she gave it, depending on your perspective. Her holiday plans were interrupted by a trip to the hospital to deliver her first child. It’s a gift we’ve all experienced on the receiving end. It’s a gift that holds such promise and expectation of growth and renewal, of successes, of love and bonding. It’s a gift often taken for granted until it’s gone.

And gone it will be all too soon. This Christmas season also saw the loss of a dear sister-in-law to cancer, the end of a life well lived.

Life and death.

Our existence on this ball of rock suspended in space is a tremendous gift. The place we occupy in space and time is unique to us, and to us alone. We may collect friends and family to walk the path with us, but their vista is different, and they may tread easily where we have cause to stumble. We grow up seeing thing with fresh eyes that cloud over with time. We begin with the excitement of the new, learning instructions for how the world works, until for many it becomes mundane, old, used, and we merely exist until we don’t any more.

But if we look closely, there is extravagance all around us. The heady scent of flowers in the spring that bring the buzzing, industrious bees in their quest for nectar. The small molecules of water that are so constructed as to hold onto each other as they ride the wave of gravity toward the ocean, bringing us fresh mountain streams and scenic waterfalls. Basalt, sandstone, and granite tower over us, ever so slowly shifting and moving, only to then crumble and fall, reminding us of our impermanence in this ancient place. The transfer of gasses within our lungs, the beating of our hearts, the plasticity of our brains, all miraculous gifts that we take for granted until they are gone. The capacity for love and forgiveness that strengthens ties and creates a web of safety and security, tendrils of which creep outward in random acts of kindness toward strangers. Extravagance. Just look to the closest planet and compare – then immerse yourself in it.

2017 – The Year of Not Caring

I’ve always been a pretty optimistic person, someone who believes in love and family and that those two things will see you through any bad time that comes your way. My friends and family have seen me through a couple of harrowing years, one of a scary cancer diagnosis and another seeing me through the job from hell. I don’t know how I would have made it through either of those without the love and support of family and friends. But we all go through phases and stages, and this past year everyone’s phases coalesced into the perfect storm of children pulling away and adults revisiting their purpose in this world, all under the helpless feeling that comes with a tumultuous election of a divisive president. It was a one step in front of the other kind of year, a year of going through the motions, of waking up with a dedication to getting through the day.

And it’s taught me to care less.

Though I’m not a Buddhist, I can finally see how letting go gives peace. I have held tightly to my ties, even while the hands on the other end were slackening their grip. I have sat in the middle of a pile of photo albums that only I look at and cried over times past. I have served dinner in front of a wall of photo collages of happy times and tried to make conversation with people who were intent on showing that they were just not that into me. I have tried to communicate my needs and my desires only to be met with blank stares as I pounded my head against that brick wall. And so I let go.

It’s a lonely feeling to let go.

I have spent a lot of time this year wandering by myself, walking through nature, feeling the salt air on my face, staring at the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and marveling at the giant moon as it rose over the land. I slept in the back of my car to get my camping experience and cried as I listened to the families around me talk and laugh around their own campfires. I have wandered and traveled, all the time taking photos that don’t include the people I love. I have dammed up the feeder stream to friendships that were sustained on my little trickle alone. I have searched inward for solace.

There were islands of joy in my barren year, trips to see Smartypants in Virginia and Sunshine in Colorado, trips that filled my soul and reminded me of what I love most about life. We explored and ate and talked and laughed, and I went home revived, with a full tank to carry me through months of what has become a dry, prickly, arid existence. There was a springtime trip with Mr. A to the national parks, getting away from the roles and responsibilities that have made up our last 23 years in this same spot. But returning to knee-high grass and weeds and those same roles and responsibilities brought reality home like a blast from the furnace, and as Mr. A dove back into work, I was on my own once again.

And so I wandered.

And I stopped caring.

As I said, there’s a freedom that comes from not caring, a vagabond mentality that is always seeking out options. It’s a freedom from fear. It’s a knowledge that anything  stable could be upended without a moment’s notice, and an appreciation for what is going well in the moment. It comes with a humility that I cannot influence what I thought I could, and that being myself might not be enough to work magic in other people’s lives. It’s come with the feeling of teetering on the brink between falling back into a life I’ve always treasured and being pushed into a new existence, a chance to re-imagine myself, that square peg that will never fit into the round hole no matter how much pressure is applied.

And so I’ve wandered through the darkness of 2017 and come to the end intact, though the lessons may have been hard. In the autumn of my life, I watch my expectations change and fall like leaves, clustering at my feet, in sight, but out of reach, before blowing away on each stiff breeze.

I am learning to let go.

 “All that history, the love & laughter, is designed for youth. It is what keeps the story of who we are alive from one generation to the next. It ensures our indelible mark in the souls of generations we will never have the pleasure of holding in a warm embrace. Life is short people. Before you know it, another decade will pass, people you love will be lost to this world, and all that will be left of them is what we carry in our hearts.”
― E.B. Loan


In Search of a Holly, Jolly Christmas

Yesterday we got our tree.

I scraped my snuffle-nosed, chilled self up off the couch, out from under the warm blanket, woke Maverick from his lazy, Saturday afternoon nap, and together we joined Mr. A on a trip to a local tree farm in search of the perfect tree. There used to be six of us wandering out in the cold, pointing to different ideas of perfection. Now there are three. Soon there will be only two. (I see a Noble Fir in the future.)

In about 15 minutes we had our tree chosen, cut, loaded and paid for, a very quick and efficient trip, a small-sliver reminder of the joyful family times we used to enjoy at this time of year. I should be happy, but I’m feeling rather melancholy.

I have two kids who’ve moved to different states and one stubborn Goose who has decided he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. (I’ll be slipping him a copy of Dicken’s Christmas Carol.) Maverick is left to hold the banner for the offspring branch in this family tree, and he prefers his room to the common area. I am starting to understand how that holly, jolly feeling can be obscured by a dark cloud of unfulfilled expectations. At the same time I am confronted by a social media storm of carefully curated photos of happy, close knit families enjoying the holiday preparations together. Time for a Facebook break.

Maybe I will find my holly, jolly Christmas yet.

Maybe when my system beats back this cold.

Maybe when my Sunshine arrives for a 5-day visit.

Maybe if I can convince my Scrooge McGoose that Christmas is about time with the people you love.

In the meantime, the tree is up and taking up half of my living room. In the spirit of going through the motions, it’s time to decorate.




Ferrari or jalopy?


It’s something you never think about when the gears are in motion and the machinery is chugging along. You take for granted the easy ride, but the machinery of love requires upkeep, regular tuneups in the form of outings, dates, memory-making experiences. It benefits from regular polishing with the wax of affection, carefully and deliberately applied. Smoothing oil of conversation and companionship keep the motor purring.

Neglect any one of these things and this machinery starts to break down. Gears start sticking, squeaking and squawking. The motor gets tarnished and full of gunk. Forget about the tuneups and soon you find yourself stuck by the side of the road, trying desperately to flag down help.



The Zen of Sanding Chairs

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and summer for this teacher means time to tackle those nagging projects. Last week was a productive week, leaving my house in disarray. A not-so-simple picture rearrangement in the dining room became a much needed wall paint touch up. That led the way to finally painting naked, primed trim a rich melted vanilla ice cream shade of white. You can’t paint trim and leave the doors grimy and grungy, so off came the door handles and on went the paint. (Mouse and your cookie, you have nothing on me!)

I have a list, and things are getting checked off. When the heat wave drove me out of my non-air-conditioned house yesterday, I sat in the shade in my front yard and painstakingly sanded down a couple of chairs from a 1930s dining set that once belonged to my grandparents. The set was an antiqued-white addition to my mom’s red 70s kitchen when I was growing up. It then adorned our little 1940-era starter home when my own kids were young. It has mostly been stored for years now, with the exception of a single chair that moves from the computer desk to the piano and back again, over and over.

Being the oblivious person that I am, I have for years overlooked the yellowing polyurethane and the ripped tomato-soup colored vinyl seat. The chair is handy, lightweight, easy to move around in its ossified, porous, dry-wood way. It’s a ninja to the knights of my current cumbersome dining set, its portability helping me to reach those top shelves of my kitchen cabinets or to hang a curtain rod, which is what I was doing recently when my foot got caught in the rip and I went down on my rear end, jarring my neck and rattling some unused portion of my brain that tends to overlook things like ripped seats on vintage chairs.

I added it to my list.

The chairs and I were about to get on intimate terms. I had already painted the one that was in my house, trying a chalk paint formula from memory, circuits of which must have been jarred as well in the fall because the 1:1 ratio I thought I remembered was actually 2:1. So off came the thick, gloppy paint job. Then, so as not to leave its siblings out, because one must always be fair, even to chairs, I pulled the others out of storage and sanded them, too.

This is not a simple, straightforward set. It has a routed scroll pattern on the backs and turned legs with depressions that are either full of antiquing stain or nearly 50 years of the dirt and dust of life. As the sandpaper did its job on the polyurethane, the white my mother had painted over the wood became apparent. I remembered her dismay when she learned that because she had painted bare wood, the set could not be stripped back down to the mahogany. I sanded over the legs and noted the distressing that came from years of feet resting on the stabilizing bar at the bottom. Those feet were our feet as children, and later my own children’s feet. With a quiet meditation I sanded. The legs of the chairs were squeaky, begging for attention, and at the corners they had been mistreated and now had jagged edges. I started thinking how like life this whole process was.20170624_124105

This connecting disconnected things could be a result of the stage I’m in, a kind of grasping-at-straws reflective process. My kids are leaving home and are busy with their own lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own life (though my family might choose the phrase dwelling on). I was always happy with my choices, but now as I find myself alone more and more, I am not so sure I’d make the same ones if given another chance. Having my kids? Yes. But the choice to stay at home with them in their early years is exacting a heavy toll on me right now.

With each drag of the sandpaper I pondered this life that has been given to me, all of the small moments woven together to bring me to the shade of the front yard on this miserably hot day, and how my choices and the choices of the people I love that have truly impacted it. Like the chair that had sat, unnoticed in its decline, I thought how much tending my new life really needed, how much stripping away of the old might get to the somewhat ossified, but very useful core, how much sanding down the rough edges was needed to avoid breakage and the  possibility of hurting someone, and how much a new paint job in the form of a renewed focus might bring some life to an otherwise old and tired existence.

I will return to sanding down my old chairs today, and with it my old life, my old thought patterns and expectations. I will clothe my chairs in a beautiful French inspired fabric and paint them with a new and accurate formulation of chalk paint. I will revisit the points of wear that really matter and distress accordingly. Then, when I finally rub the wax into the finished product and buff it to a smooth shine, I hope to come away with an poignant reminder of all that has been and a beautiful testament to all that remains.


Life as a Jenga Tower

Carefully the foundation was laid,
Criss-crossing planks reaching toward a sky
That tantalized with low-strung clouds of hope
And a vast expanse of possibility.

Life took a plank here and there,
That’s how the game is played,
Opening holes into the recesses of mind and heart,
But a Jenga tower is not easily toppled.

Illness came like the petulant child and
Swiped at the blocks, scattering a few to far reaches,
Never to be seen again,
Knocking the tower a little off kilter.
But the tower remained standing,
Shored up by many hands.

Blocks were extracted as
Building materials for towers which were
Themselves under construction
In a reach for that wide expanse of sky
In a never-ending shuffle of finite resources.
Still, the tower held firm.

Then a block was drawn from the bottom,
And the tower groaned.

Then another.

And another.

Players played on,
Wondering why the tower swayed.
Unaware of the laws of physics,
Of gravity
And of equal and opposite reactions,
They poked and prodded at the structural integrity
Of the Jenga tower.

The game is still in progress,
Though the base has become riddled with openings
Where the winds of disillusionment and melancholy
Eddy and swirl.

Photo credit: Nicola since 1972 via / CC BY