Thursday, June 1, 2017

Letting Go Of Curly's Tail

When I was a teenager my parents decided to move from the bustle of the San Francisco Bay Area to a tiny rural town in Oregon. Having no previous traditional farming experience, my step dad thought it would be cool to lay down cash for 55 acres of undeveloped land.

This all occurred over the course of a weekend.

It was awesome.

No, it wasn't.

And because my step dad didn't want to hire out the work to develop it, the majority of the labor fell to himself, my mother and yours truly.

I was expected to have the strength of Serena Williams and because of that I grew very stubborn. I wanted to prove my ability. I wanted favor in the sight of my step father and the only way I could achieve that was to work my butt off.  Sometimes that still wasn't enough.

Eventually he bought some cows to help as a tax write off and keep the fields grazed. In reality, there were just pets which of course, I loved.

We had a young heifer named Curly and she decided it would be cool to try and break through a weak spot in the fencing. The idea of this terrified me because I was worried she would never come back. As she headed towards imminent fence breakage, I grabbed her tail in an effort to catch her.  She was undeterred. She took off even faster and in my stubbornness, I refused to let go. What followed was perfect fodder for a YouTube video as I was drug across the pasture on my stomach by this wayward cow.

Even in the midst of my field sledding I felt if the cow got out, I would be responsible for it and therefore guilt was already sinking its claws into my vulnerable soul.

By the time it was all over I was seriously beaten up. And while she didn't get out, I had only made the situation worse by not letting go. Because let's face it, who really likes having their tail grabbed?

My stubbornness has continued to get me in trouble over the years because I still feel guilt if I don't see something through, even if it is making me miserable in the process. I have intense fear of disappointing others.

And while I admire my tenacity at times, is it really worth it? Is it really worth to make myself and those around me miserable?

Its been 27 years since my cow incident and I still can't seem to let go of Curly's tail.

So I'm taking a leap of faith and replacing "I have to" with "I'm choosing to".

Its scary for me because of the unknowns and fear of making a mistake but sometimes the scariest risks ends up being the best.








Thursday, April 27, 2017

Telephones And Greeting Cards

Almost 4 weeks ago my mom had a total knee replacement and as I've mentioned in my previous post, her recovery has been long and arduous.

I basically moved in for 2 weeks, interspersed with quick visits home, in order to care for her.

Mom lives in a remote area, her home sits atop a hill surrounded by grass seed fields. I can't convince her to move closer because she lives where she wants to live, end of story.

Life is different in the country and after living in Portland proper for a few years now, I've grown accustomed to convenience and a busy lifestyle. Essentially it has become a life with less focus on relationship and more on the rat race.

When I settled into mom's, I felt a sense of restlessness and nervousness. I felt distracted. I felt isolated and alone. The quiet was unnerving.

My mom doesn't have WiFi, she doesn't have Netflix, she doesn't own a dishwasher or modern conveniences. She uses her woodstove as her main source of heat. She has a telephone that cuts out on the regular due to sketchy phone lines. She doesn't own an IPhone and her water comes from a well.


It turned out I had a thing or two to learn once I settled in at mom's, one of which was telephone etiquette. Apparently you answer the phone when you live in the country. But instead when her land line rang, I just ignored it  because we all know that's what text messaging is for.

Finally mom called from her bedroom, "Aren't you going to answer that?"

"Of course not. Why would I answer a phone, especially one without caller ID?"

But because I try to be a good daughter, I finally picked up the 'receiver' only to hear a concerned voice on the other end. They even knew my name."

It was freaky.

The caller turned out to be one of my mom's good friends calling to check on her and offer any help that might be needed.

It didn't stop there. Phone calls started coming in on the regular and the more I answered, the more agitated I got.

Finally I asked my mom, "Why in the world aren't these people sending text messages instead of using something so archaic as a land line?"

"We do things different up here and besides, we don't have IPLUGS", she told me.

"They're called IPHONES" I yelled, as I stomped off to answer yet again, another phone call.

When I got her mail, I discovered her mailbox was full. I started rifling through all these brightly colored envelopes, similar in size. All were written in cursive, adorned with pretty stickers, addressed to my mother.


They were Get Well cards. Obviously my mom's friends had way too much time on their hands because each passing day brought more cards, more phone calls and hand delivered flower arrangements.

It was quickly becoming a part time job, being her 'secretary'.


But after a week of this nonsense, I found myself answering her phone on the first ring and looking forward to what was in the mailbox that day.

It was then I found the source of my original restlessness.

I was in the process of detoxing.

I was coming down off of city life, of dishwashers and water dispensers on the front of fridges, of Starbucks, of WiFi, of social media, of Target, of noise and distraction, of close neighbors and commuting.

My mind was beginning to still. I found stress dissolving. I found joy in scattering bird seed for all of my mom's mourning doves and building fires in her woodstove, in reading a book and washing dishes by hand.

With each passing day, my agitation began to ease. My mom commented that I appeared less distracted and more present.

Then I took things a step further. I felt inspired to be creative so I took out a stack of greeting cards from my mom's coffer of stationery and started writing cards to family and friends, in cursive.

I addressed all my mom's Easter cards from her handwritten address book.

I sat at her roll top desk and watched the deer out her windows. I brewed tea in the afternoon and swept her porch. I watched nature shows on PBS.

My mom lives in the land of greeting cards and telephones, of neighbor's impromptu visits, of mid day pie and tea with her friends and after church luncheons. I'm a little jealous now that I've seen first hand what it means to live with intention.

It didn't take me long to revert back to my old ways when I left mom's and headed back to my life.
Sadly, the allure of the convenient becomes the norm when really, it shouldn't.

Even though I'm not at the point of making phone calls or dropping by friend's houses without warning, I just might send out some random greeting cards to friends. Of course, only AFTER I text them for their address.

Baby steps.






Thursday, April 20, 2017

My Life Is Starting To Sound Like A Country Music Ballad

I have reached the conclusion that my life is morphing into a typical country music song. Don't get me wrong, I love Rascal Flatts but this is just plain old school country right here...cue Merle Haggard.

Because of this, my usual cheery optimism is stuck inside one of those nasty Starbucks Unicorn Frappucinos.  I pile all my negativity on random strangers and unsuspecting co workers in an effort to get free therapy.

Back in November our offer on a house was accepted and with that came both happiness and fear. Fear of starting over in a new community and leaving my familiar bubble of security and routine. Transitioning into a different house, town, school and commute is harder than it sounds and frankly, it has rocked me. I comfort myself in the familiar and so instead of dealing with change, I'm binging on episodes of Shameless because let's face it, an evening with the Gallagher family will remind you that your life is awesome.

Soon after the news came that we would be moving, our dear Greyhound was hit by a car. It was so completely horrific that for days I could barely get out of bed. The loss of her rocked me and my family to the core and we are still grieving.

My children's amazing grandfather on their father's side passed away in February. I always considered him a father because he was a man that stood out from amongst the rest. He was a tremendous human who possessed a spirit of love and kindness. I first met him in 1992 and decided right then that I would love him forever.

A few weeks ago, my step father suddenly died as a result of a massive heart attack. He died on my daughter's birthday and while we weren't in contact, the loss was shocking.

My mom just went through her third knee replacement surgery which is weird because she only has 2 knees. But anyway...this one has been the worst in terms of recovery. After 2.5 weeks of leave from my job, my mom still needs plenty of assistance. I've felt her struggle keenly as I see on the daily her pain and attempts at therapy. This has been her 7th surgery in 6 years and each one becomes a little more difficult, with good reason. I worry for her well being and see the days approaching where she will need me full time.

I don't mean to share my woes to depress or solicit sympathy. I think we can all agree we are living in trying times and 2017 has been a butt.

I guess what I'm trying to say is now more than ever, we need each other. We need community. We need relationship.

But I'm not pursuing any of that.

Instead, I'm pulling away more and more into my own little cocoon of reflection and quietness.

When I finally did share this with a medical professional I came away with a bit of
bit of encouragement. Whether its a move or poor health or a death or a change in a job, it all comes with a sense of loss or grief. How we deal with it can manifest itself in a variety of ways.

What's important to remember is these seasons are temporary and its OK because seasons change.

I have forgotten what it means to treat myself with compassion and kindness and to allow myself the time to grieve is a gift I can give myself.

Right now I'm where I need to be. I'm not going to lie though, I'm ready for this country music song to turn into a Justin Timberlake jam.

















Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Time To Mourn

I met my stepdad 40 years ago. I remember the day well. I was 5 years old and my mom was introducing him to me as her new boyfriend. I was angry because he wasn't my dad so I promptly slammed my bedroom door in his face.

Thus began our complicated relationship. Mom had a few boyfriends since she had divorced my dad but somehow in my innocent mind I knew this one was going to stick. Life with just my mom was about to change. Drastically.

My stepdad never really wanted kids although much later in life he wishes he had chosen differently because he felt bad I didn't have a sibling to play with. Honestly, I don't think parenting was one of my stepdad's strong points. All of a sudden he had this crazy 5 year old running around. I can't really blame him for his hesitancy.  Nevertheless, he dove in and for years we attempted to forge some sort of relationship.

There were years of good and there were years of bad. Unfortunately the bad outweighed the good at times which truly altered the course of my future as a teenager and young adult. 

To wade through the years of dysfunction feels pointless now. It was part of our journey and history can't rewrite itself. For some reason we had to go through those experiences in order to be stronger. What I can do however is reflect on the things that were good and there are plenty of good memories.

My stepdad had a fantastic sense of humor. We would watch Beverly Hills 90210 together. He would make me huge bowls of popcorn. He paid for years of private schooling, we would play 'band' together and sing Amy Grant Christmas carols into microphones. On his good days, he was my biggest cheerleader.

But on his bad days...threats, violence and verbal abuse infused the four walls of our home.

Many years later my children were born and he lived as if he were a new man. The times he had missed out on being a father were now being experienced as a grandfather. My children absolutely doted on him.  I felt a sense of redemption and hope as he fully embraced his new role. I think those years when my kids were younger gave him a sense of purpose and joy as he actively participated in their lives. I was cautiously optimistic.

The day my daughter was born my stepdad was at the hospital in the delivery room. As it became apparent I was getting close to the "pushing stage" he went to make his exit. However he didn't get very far before the bed I was delivering on, broke. The entire leg stirrup piece gave out as I began pushing so there I was with one leg flailing about with a baby coming out. Since the doctor and nurses were obviously otherwise engaged, there was no one to fix the bed so my stepdad had to crawl underneath and hold up the stirrup portion of the bed as I delivered my daughter.

Let's just say he had a bird's eye view of a birth that he would have preferred to miss but I will always remember that event with humor as he saw my daughter enter the world from a most 'unique' position.

But mental illness and alcoholism are cruel. It ravages both the mind and body. It has the potential to leave irreparable damage to both the one suffering from it and those that are closely connected with the person battling it. We saw the power it held over my stepdad and it grieved us to see such a now vibrant person fall into it's clutches.

Yesterday my stepdad died.

Suddenly and most unexpectedly.

On my daughter's 15th birthday.

The irony is not lost on me and I'm grieved by it.

However my stepdad took advantage at a last chance of redemption before his death. He started over from a place of complete brokenness. Thanks to a wonderful, compassionate, supportive group of friends, he found joy again. He found a church community he embraced and felt loved by. He was in a healthy, happy relationship. This brings me joy. Even though we were no loner in contact, I'm glad he left this world in a place of peace.


Today I'm crafting how will I tell my children that he has passed away. I'm choosing my words carefully because I want them to remember the good times, the good memories and the times of laughter that we were able to share in between the difficulties. That even in his moments of despair, he loved them.


It feels a bit freeing when I say that I'm choosing to focus on the things that were good because wallowing in any past hurt will accomplish nothing and honestly, I don't want to remember him in that way.

He's finally found true peace. Who am I to try and take that away? Rest easy, Jim. You are finally free....






Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Second Chances

Over the weekend I was cruelly reminded of my age when I took my daughter to Forever 21. I was one of the oldest customers.

Talk about a reality check.

I almost bought myself a Def Leppard T Shirt in an attempt to reclaim my youth but sadly they only carried it in an X Small. Go figure.

My kids are delving into their teenage years, meaning they aren't needing me as much anymore in terms of the daily needs a small child requires. It is a unique season, a time in which they are discovering more independence which is allowing me the freedom to take a nap, finish a book, do errands or watch a show uninterrupted. And as mothers of small kids know, you can't put a price tag on that.

Instead, our conversations include deeper subjects instead of the latest Paw Patrol episode. They can make their own lunches, do laundry and are becoming functioning members of society. They are starting to vision cast about their futures such as careers, college or in my son's case, a post graduation backpacking trip through Europe (hold me).

But with it comes another season. A season of redefinition. After 14 years of (grateful) stay at home parenting with intermittent employment, who am I? I've lost all sense of my identity as a woman.

We find resistance when trying to reenter the work force. We discover our education from years past really has no relevance now due to a ever evolving market.

In interviews I've been asked, "What have you been doing during your lengthy time of unemployment?"

Aside from wanting to answer, "Raising humans', my work experience is outdated unless you consider running the bake sale at my son's school viable employment.

So I decided to do an experiment as a way to build a little work history and test the waters for something that might click, something that might ignite some inspiration or even a new passion. I decided to start over.

Over the past year I worked as a nanny, a barista and most recently employed at a Montessori school. I'm grateful because these jobs have revealed to me what I DON'T want to do. That alone has been enlightening. It also has allowed me the opportunity to reflect what I DO want to do based on my interests, strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes from present and previous jobs.

I'm entering Part 2 of parenting which is revealing it's own set of challenges and joys, intertwined with sadness over the fact my children are on their way to adulthood.

It feels weird as I start paying attention to myself again, wondering what's next. This time of uncertainty can be considered a second chance. A chance for a new career whether it comes from a new educational pursuit or perhaps from a passion that has been lying dormant.

Whatever it is, I think those of us who find ourselves in this stage of life deserve the opportunity to discover the importance of finding fulfillment.

And if your passion is running the bake sale long after your kids have finished school, more power to you. I have to keep reminding myself that every experience we journey through allows us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

Take time to figure out what drives you, what excites you, what inspires you, what challenges you and GO FOR IT. As a fellow sojourner I can say you won't regret it.























Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Month At Starbucks



After being an avid consumer for 12 years, I decided to find out what all the hype was about when it came to working for Starbucks. I figured it would be ideal. Sling espresso while my kids were in school and challenge my quickly growing introverted self into an engaging member of the community in which I lived.

I applied and was hired the very next day. Their desperation for staff was keenly felt as I witnessed the frantic partners with too long of a line and not enough baristas to cover the shifts.

I was excited. I longed for a fast paced environment because it made time pass quickly and wouldn't be a complete yawn fest. Plus, I loved coffee. What could be better?

Not only was I going to make espressos and frappucinos, I was going to make pour overs and learn the beauty behind the Flat White and the definition of a ristretto shot.

I was heck bent on demystifying the glamorous life of a Starbucks barista. I had wanted to work for them for years and had applied no less than a dozen times. I had read "How Starbucks Saved My Life" by Michael Gill and eagerly absorbed Howard Schultz's book, "Onward". Needless to say I could barely sleep the night before my first shift.

But what I encountered was anything but glamorous...

I dumped disgusting amounts of trash, cleaned the cafĂ© table bases and waste cans, scrubbed dried chili off the walls from someone who snuck their lunch in, mopped up the teen girl's dumped Venti Green Tea Frappucino, and learned that people mean business when it comes to 3 or 4 pumps in their mocha.

If you're going in with the thought of whiling away hours honing your latte art skills, think again.
You aren't a true barista unless you have scrubbed the floor drains with bleach and a toothbrush.

I think my moment of clarity that people are seriously messed up came when a customer asked me to weigh her cappuccino in order confirm her ratio of milk to foam was even. Another moment soon followed when a woman produced a rose petal and asked me to steep it in her Pike Place Roast brew.

And while there are plenty of opportunities to hone your craft, the fact remains that being a barista is not as glamorous as one might think. Because contrary to popular belief, the majority of your time is spent doing dishes, refilling cups and restocking the condiment bar.

But I learned so much in the short month and a half I was employed. I learned that for the past 12 years I have been spending an obscene amount of money on basically sugar and water.

I learned the garbage and waste that goes out in one 4 hour shift, is staggering. I learned that people get really snotty about their coffee and need to visit a third world country for a while.

I learned that I'm a gross consumer of Starbucks. I learned that even though I realize this, I will still be a faithful customer.

I learned that baristas deserve a heck of a lot more money. 

I discovered baristas hold a great amount of power since they are the direct link between you and caffeine.

I discovered we are considered drug dealers to many and the longer you make a customer wait for their hit, the more dreadful your morning will become.

I discovered that I personally contribute to the obesity problem in America when I make a Venti Caramel Frappucino with extra caramel.

I learned that hell hath no fury than a white girl in yoga pants discovering you ran out of pumpkin spice.

I've also discovered a lot about myself and it's been quite illuminating. I don't know about you but being trained by a girl 25 years my junior is a lesson in humility.

I've learned that these kids can run circles around me, leaving me in a cloud of latte foam.

I've learned that while there is the potential of weight gain from sampling product, the odds are pretty much in your favor to lose weight. Working for this company requires serious work and I basically crawled home.

I've discovered that I love making coffee and if you're nasty to me I will pull decaf shots instead of regular espresso because I'm vindictive like that.

And in case you're wondering, don't ever NOT tip your barista or worse, drop in your 3 pennies. The person that just made your drink does not earn a living wage so cut them some slack and cash up! I figure anyone that makes your morning bearable deserves quality compensation!



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Favorite Feminist Is My 15 Year Old Daughter

I never envisioned myself having children. Everyone told me having children was a very selfish act. I always thought the opposite because I knew once the bun was out that oven you started living life for someone else. To me, that's the most selfless thing a person can do. It scared me because I was (and still am) a selfish person by nature.

But the biggest deal breaker? The physical part you have to endure in order to get the baby. I have a very low pain tolerance and so the thought of either pushing a child out of my nether regions or worse, having my child cut out of me, was unthinkable.

Yet at 31 years of age I discovered I was going to be a mother.  I studied everything I could on labor and delivery, caring for an infant and surviving toddlerhood, then wish I hadn't because no matter how hard you prepare, you are never prepared.

But on the first day of spring in March 2002, after three days of labor, my daughter was born. It was the most terrifying event of my life but I fell in love at 4:15pm with a tiny little creature who would one day call me, "Mama."

When people tell you the old cliché of how fast the years will go, believe them. It will seem unimaginable at that moment of sleeplessness and lack of showers, but the people that tell you this have walked the road, they know.

Now on the cusp of turning 15, my daughter is everything I never even knew I wanted to be. Fierce, strong, opinionated, educated, independent and aware, she possesses grace and assurance as she lives out her beliefs. She has a whole life ahead of her, new experiences and opportunities await her. She has a chance in this messy world we live in to make a difference. She is coming of age at a pivotal time in our world and while I'm fearful for her and what she may encounter, I'm also hopeful. People like her are essential in creating change for the future.

At times I find myself jealous of my daughter. I wish I had half her tenacity when I was 15. Instead it consisted of boys and failed grades. And so I pray for her strength to endure and to always stand up for just causes, despite any backlash she may receive. She has a deep, abiding faith life and bases her choices on the core principles she has known since early childhood. That alone has the power to sustain her in times of adversity.

One of her biggest attributes is the fact she puts up with me.  She endures my version of carpool karaoke and my Elaine from Seinfeld dance moves. She puts up with my attempts to clothes shop for her and my nagging about cleaning her room. She consoles me when a driver honks at me and I honk back. She graciously waves back when I yell, "I love you" as she gets out of the car for school.

While she is reading Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka and 1984 by George Orwell, I'm browsing Pinterest. She gets invited to protest rallies, I spend too much money at Home Goods. She attends LGBTQ groups as an ally to her gay and transgendered friends who lack support from their families while I sit at home, safe behind my computer screen. I don't mean this as a comparison but I do mean it as my wake up call.

We have open, frank discussions, everything ranging from sex to our current government. The mind of a teen is so deep and complex. I will never fully understand how my daughter processes information or how she interprets her innermost thoughts but I'm grateful for a glimpse into her psyche and the truth she speaks.

For almost 15 years I've been expecting my daughter to learn from my example, to listen to me and to follow my lead. Turns out it should be the other way around. I have so much to learn from her.