Apropos of Nothing

I love summer. No. I mean, I. REALLY. LOVE. SUMMER. I am happy at this time of year. I like it when the weather is warm and I can see the sun and people are not afraid to leave their homes for fear of freezing. If the weather could stay exactly as it is now, I would be in Heaven. (Look for the I. DESPISE. WINTER. version of this post in approximately seven months.)

Mark is buying a new truck. It’s time. He called me at work a couple of times today to update me on which truck he found in what price range and color at which dealership and what kind of extras come with it. He needed my opinion. I said I didn’t have an opinion. All I wanted to know was if the monthly payment fits the budget. I don’t care about anything else. It’s HIS truck. He said it wasn’t his, it was ours and I should have an opinion. I said it wasn’t ours, it was his. The car is MINE and it’s paid for. See how that works?

Downtown people are scary sometimes. I was leaving work and walking the couple of blocks to my parking ramp. There was a guy standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus. Well, I presume he was waiting for the bus because I think that’s what people do on bus stops. I could be wrong though. It’s been a while. Anyway.

What was I saying?

Oh yeah.

The guy at the bus stop was prying his cell phone apart.

With a knife.

A big knife.

I looked at the knife and all I could think is if he decided to stab me with the knife it would be able to go through my stomach and come out my spine. Ironically, this thought only raised a mild curiosity within me and very little actual fear. I may be a slight bit too trusting. But you’ll be pleased to know I did not get stabbed after all.

I think I’m going to go buy myself a hot pink and black bowling ball tonight. It’s time to get my own and stop bowling with Jake’s, don’t you think?

Exactly how many pills did Carter have, anyway? And was that Jimmy Carter? And what kind of pills were they?

No, I have not been drinking.

These are days

Kacey’s 16U softball team played in an out of town tournament this weekend. We’ve done this countless times before with various other teams on which the kids have played. It was another weekend of following maps and long drives. It was another weekend of living out of duffel bags and sleeping in unfamiliar hotel beds. It was another weekend of excitement, cheering, fun and laughter.

While we drove to the tournament Saturday morning, rain fell in sporadic intervals. The sky was dark, a wall of threatening clouds following our every move. I wondered whether the tournament would even go on as planned. The forecast didn’t look promising.

We got a little turned around at one point in the drive, with me failing in my duties as trip navigator. My not-so-trustworthy online directions failed me while we seemed to drive in circles through the downtown area of one of the small towns along the way. Finally, common sense prevailed in the driver as he pulled over, grabbed the online directions and map from me and quickly decided they were worthless. Mark allowed his directional instincts to take over and got us back on track once again.

Without the directionally challenged member of the family in charge, we finally arrived at our destination. We were there in plenty of time and gathered with the other players and families at the site of the first game. The winds were strong and the clouds continued to blanket the sky, but the rain held off. The canvas chairs of all of the spectators were lined up behind the fences and we watched our girls take their first win; an easy one. A light rain began to fall just as the game ended and the group took advantage of the break between games to check into our hotel rooms.

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The atmosphere among the group was light and spirits buoyant in the wake of the win. It became clear that we were in for some fun. The families and players who make up this team are friendly and easy-going. I knew it would be easy to relax this weekend.

IMG_0296 by you.

By the time game two began, the rain clouds had moved on but the wind remained. I caught a foul ball with the bottom of my bare foot. (Ok. I didn’t actually catch it. Unable to get out of my chair and out of the way in time, I stopped it from hitting me in the shins by blocking it with the bottom of my foot.) It hit hard with an audible thud. It hurt. A lot. The “F” word sort of quietly slipped out. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t normally say that word out loud, much less in front of others. The coach teased me that although he couldn’t hear me from his position in the dugout, he was pretty sure he could read my lips. The adults nearby me seemed to find my use of the word quite funny. I was not allowed to live that down for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, the girls were oblivious to my slip up.

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After hours of clouds and being chilled, we enjoyed the heat of the sun while we watched our girls fight their way to an exciting victory. They were working their way up the ranks toward the big games. We were informed that the opponent in game three had forfeited due to injuries and a shortage of players. The girls had swept their bracket and this put them in good position for day two of the tournament.

We celebrated with dinner at Peter’s Ribs and then headed back to the hotel to relax for the evening. The kids were in swim suits in what seemed like minutes and soon the pool was filled with happy, screaming girls. The adults congregated at the patio tables around the pool and some adult beverages were shared. Much conversation and laughter ensued. The rain clouds reappeared and finally broke loose. We watched the storm from inside the hotel, grateful we had been spared during the day. The party didn’t break up until eleven o’clock, when someone had the brains to remember the girls needed sleep for the big day.

IMG_0309 by you.

The first team the girls faced on day two was a tougher opponent than they had seen so far. The game went back and forth for a while, but then leaned distinctly in our girls’ favor. There were some stunning hits, some seemingly impossible catches, and two amazing double plays. The game ended with a comfortable 13 – 4 win. Our girls had made it to the championship game!

The ball fields were situated alongside a lake. While we sat and waited for the final game to begin, the relentless wind continued to roll across the lake and assault us. The frustration with the wind and flying dirt was tempered by the sight of a flock of pelicans rising from the lake above the tree line. We watched in awe as they floated across the sky above us. They aren’t beautiful birds, but their flight pattern is a sight to see; slow, peaceful and graceful.

The championship game began on schedule. Our girls fought hard, but they were out-played. Frustration began to take hold and their momentum faded. They gave it all they had, but in the end, the championship was awarded to the other team.  I was proud of our girls. There were no tears. There were no long faces. There was no embarassing drama. They took their loss with grace and maturity, assuring each other, “Next time. Next time, for sure!” These girls were the epitome of good sportsmanship.

Driving home, I glanced over my shoulder from the passenger seat and caught a glimpse of my sleeping daughter in the back seat. Her face was dirty and she was exhausted after a weekend of giving it her all. As seems to be my burden, a slight sadness momentarily overshadowed the good memories of the weekend. She’s sixteen now. It’s almost certain she’ll play summer ball for one more season. After 16U, interest in playing seems to die off. Girls tend to want to find jobs, or socialize. There is not enough time to make room for the commitment to a softball team too. After this league, finding a team is difficult unless you’re good enough to play on an elite team. Not many earn that privilege. There aren’t many of these times left in our future. Moments from the weekend played in my mind… The girls being silly in the back seat of our car as we taxied three of them to and from the fields… Their comfortable laughter and teenage conversations… The way they all fit together with ease, comfort and trust in one another. I love seeing the way they have become team mates, on and off the field.  I love the way we’ve managed to form a sort of family among the people who make up this team. Too soon I’ll only be looking back on these days as distant fond memories. Once again, I am reminded to appreciate today. That knowledge makes days like these that much sweeter.

Life is Good – June 26, 2009

IMG_0258_2 by you.If you read my post yesterday, you might recall that I mentioned I had a conference call in the morning. The participants in this meeting consisted of a small group of executive account managers of which I am a part. Normally my boss doesn’t expect us to participate in conference calls from home if the meeting occurs on a day one or more of us are not in the office. Normally, a meeting among this group serves the purpose of touching base and making sure everyone is on the same page. In the past, if one of us happened to be out of the office on the day of one of these meetings, we would just catch up with one of the others when we returned to work. But something seemed different about the meeting invitation this time. The message was vague but there seemed to be an expectation that anyone not in the office would call in if at all possible.

Anxiety levels in the office have been high. The economy hasn’t improved and neither has my company’s business. I was nervous about this call.

I won’t bore you with the details of my job, but suffice it to say that changes implemented by the Bush administration, the current economy, and impending changes being made by the Obama administration to the federal student loan program have made it nearly impossible to expect that we can resume business as usual. Our normal operations have been steadily grinding to a halt over the past couple of years, culminating with a recent company announcement that we would be unable to fund any loans for the coming academic year. Funding loans is what we do. If we don’t fund loans, then there is little left to do other than service our existing accounts. Without the benefit of new business, we have all wondered how long the company could afford to keep us all on staff. Most of us have been waiting for an announcement of layoffs and over the past few days, the fear in the office seemed almost tangible.

It was with trepidation that I dialed in on the conference call yesterday and prepared to hear the news my boss had to share.

In spite of what I know about my company, I honestly, deep down inside, never expected to hear what was said on that call yesterday.  My boss spoke for quite some time, finally filling us in on what had been going on behind the scenes in upper management recently. It didn’t take me long to understand that the news was good!

We are not folding beneath the weight of this economy. We are not throwing up our hands in defeat and calling it quits. Instead, as I have been hoping for months, it seems that management has found a way to reinvent the company and market our  expertise in other areas. I am not losing my job! At least not yet.

This news is all very preliminary and I need to be careful not to get too comfortable just yet. Our future success depends on being able to market the products and services that are being developed. But there are already some potential customers and things look promising! I was excited to hear that I will have a very active roll in this new venture if things go as well as we hope.

When I hung up from that call, Jake was the only one home besides me. He had been playing on the Wii while I was on my call and was still at it when I was finished. Still holding my cordless phone, I went to find him in the living room and began to jump and dance around and sing, “I’m not losing my job! I’m not losing my job!” He asked a few questions and laughed at my antics, saying that he didn’t think he’d ever seen me in such an excited state. My kids are very aware of how precarious my job situation has been and so I’m sure Jake understood my celebratory mood.

I suddenly realized that for the past many months, there had been a tremendous weight on my shoulders and that it had been casting a shadow over me, every day, in everything I did. Some days were worse than others. Some days I would barely worry about it, with only a mild awareness in the back of my mind of the bleak outlook. Other days, I couldn’t seem to stop worrying. This may seem dramatic to some. I’m not sure I can even explain the attachment I have to my job except to say that this  is the first job I have ever had in which I not only feel competent but that I excel in my duties and find the work to be extremely fulfilling. As much as I’d be willing to do most any kind of work necessary to support my family, I know this job and this company are a rare almost-perfect fit. The thought of giving it up hurts.

Before yesterday’s call, I was prepared to enjoy my day and simply enjoy it without worrying about anything else for a change. After the call, I don’t think there was anything that could have dampened my spirits. It turned out to be a beautiful day in so many ways.

I know there’s always the possibility that things could still go sour with my job, but for now I’m just happy that we’re not going down without a fight. I  feel like I can breathe again! Life is good!

Nothing

It’s a spectacular day with (almost) nothing hanging over my head. I woke up at 5:00 and thought about going for a run until I heard a rumble of thunder outside my bedroom window. Soon I could hear the heavy raindrops pelting the house and the sound lulled me back to sleep for a while. An hour and a half later, I was awake again and the sky was still looking ominous. I sat down in the recliner in the family room to do some reading and the rain kept starting and stopping, unable to decide if it wanted to fall or not. When I turned my attention away from the window for a moment, the sun decided to take over and in an instant the sky was bright.

In that moment I decided to get my run in. The pavement was still drenched beneath my feet and the heat of the sun was already becoming a force. I could feel steam rising from the asphalt and my body was drenched with sweat all too soon. It’s going to be a hot one today!

I have a short conference call in a while and grocery shopping to do. That’s the extent of my obligations today. Jake has invited me to go bowling with him this afternoon, and not being one to pass up a rare welcome to spend time with my teenagers, I willingly agreed.

I know it’s rare for me NOT to be long-winded, but I’m going to cut this one short today and go enjoy my day!

It's only today

I’ve been letting some things eat away at me lately. I know better. But I do it anyway. I think when I get tired, I let down my guard and these things work their way inside of me. And I have been tired the last few days.

These things that are nagging at me are people who broadcast negative attitudes and situations I wish I could change but over which I have no control. Suddenly, they have all this power over me. These are forces that, in the big picture, have no meaning, no value unless I let them. But for some reason I open the door to them and they bring me down. Suddenly I’m worrying not only about today, but yesterday, and last year and tomorrow and next month and ten years from now. There is no time to enjoy the here and now because I’m so busy fretting over situations and events that aren’t happening today.

Why?

What good does it do? Not a bit. I know when I give in to all this stuff, the stuff wins. I don’t want the stuff to win.  I have wasted too much time letting anger and frustration, hurt and sadness burn inside of me unnecessarily. I have been trying really hard lately to notice and appreciate life. Everything about it. There are so many amazing, simple, everyday, beautiful things and people in life and I’m getting better at realizing it. Last week I noticed how comforting a train sounds to me as it’s rolling down the tracks, and I heard the music of a hundred frogs croaking from a pond along the path when I run. I noticed the sweet scent of the morning right after the sun rises high in the summer sky and how energizing it is to inhale it. I realized how good it feels to just stop for a moment and breathe it all in and how much easier the rest of the day can be when I’ve allowed myself to slow down and just notice everything.

Today I realized that the last few days have felt dull and lifeless because I’ve allowed all the negative stuff to steal away anything bright and good. Today I heard a song on the radio that I’ve heard a hundred times before but only really heard today. There are some lyrics that say It’s only the world I’m livin’ in, It’s only the day I’ve been givenI needed to hear those words. I remembered that there’s no promise that I’ll be here tomorrow and yesterday is already gone. So why am I letting all this worry chip away at me? It might only be today that I have and if that’s the case, I have to live in and appreciate today. It’s a waste of time to spend the majority of my waking hours worrying about anything else. A little bit of worry? Ok. But not too much. I was reminded to let go of all those negative feelings. And I did.

And it felt SO good!

Two down. One to go.

Jake & Grandparents by you.We did it. We managed to pull off a successful graduation party.

I was awake before the crack of dawn on Friday, the day of the party. I wanted to try to sleep a little later, but my mind was too busy and wouldn’t allow it. I gave up at five o’clock and went out for a run and blew off some steam. The humidity was high and I came home drenched, but feeling like I had relieved some of the pressure.

Thankfully, Brad’s girlfriend, Heather was here. She had arrived Thursday night, insisting she wanted to help prepare for the party on Friday. She was a godsend, doing anything she was asked and then some. The poor girl was exhausted by the end of the night, having gone above and beyond the call of duty. Since she and I share a love of clothing from Express, I thanked her the following day with a gift certificate for the store.

We did, however fail in the photo-taking department. Kacey was charged with the job of party photographer, but she kept returning to tell me she wasn’t sure what to take pictures of. I suspect she was really having trouble asking people to smile for the camera. (She’s an introvert, like her mom and not so outgoing in social situations.) I finally told her she was free from her duties, thinking I’d grab the camera later, when I had a chance. Sadly, the chance never presented itself. So we got a couple of pictures of Jake with his grandparents, and that is literally all there was. It makes me a little sad that there weren’t more, but what can I do?

The weather forecast initially called for rain, but the day was beautiful. We did get a slight, gentle rain around 8:00 pm, but it only lasted about fifteen minutes and didn’t put a stop to the festivities. Everything came together, as I knew it would, in spite of the fact that I had been feeling mildly panicked all week long. Most of the people we invited showed up. We probably had about a 95% turnout.

Jake was a charming guest of honor. He greeted all of our guests with a hug or a handshake and I marvelled at the way he could hold his own in an adult conversation. I guess I still think of my kids as… well… KIDS, instead of the adults they are growing up to be. It was heartwarming to see him so happy and smiling.

The food was plentiful. In my panic, I ended up making additional batches of pasta and sauce in the eleventh hour. It wasn’t necessary, but the kids are happy for the leftovers. And not only was the food plentiful, but it was a big hit. People kept asking where we bought it and seemed impressed when I admitted that I made it. My only regret is not having had someone to help in the kitchen. For about two hours, there was a rush of people coming through and filling up their plates and I couldn’t work fast enough to keep everything filled. Next time, I’ll hire someone to do it. My good friend, Megan arrived after having first been at her niece’s graduation party. She kicked me out of the kitchen and insisted I go mingle with our guests. When I returned to check on her, she had not only successfully kept all the food replenished, she had tidied up, washed empty containers, loaded the dishwasher and wiped down counter tops. I’m so lucky to have such awesome friends!

People we didn’t really expect to see showed up. It was so good to see friends whom we haven’t seen in a few years. There were plenty of hugs and promises to keep in touch better from now on. No one seemed in a rush to leave. The party officially ended at nine o’clock, but it was near midnight when the last of the guests finally departed. We were all mentally and physically exhausted but happy.

I have two years until Kacey graduates. I’m going to start preparing NOW!

I'm sweating the small stuff…

and I need to quit.

Seriously, why do we throw graduation parties for our kids? Wouldn’t it be easier to toss a bundle of money at them and call it good?

A word to the wise. When your son decides he wants stuffed manicotti at his grad party, and your husband suggests making grandma’s home-made spaghetti sauce, you should not say to yourself…

“Self? Wouldn’t homemade stuffed manicotti and Grandma’s sauce be good? Won’t everyone just love all your homemade food? What a great idea!”

No…Instead, pull your head out of your nether regions and just say no. And call a caterer.

Seriously though, I think I have the food situation under control. Gina (the best friend) came over Monday night and we did an assembly line production of stuffed manicotti. I cooked the pasta and mixed up the cheese mixture. She brought some kind of cake decorating tool that looks like a cookie press, filled it up with the cheese mixture and squirted the cheese inside the pasta. We got nine pans done Monday night and I made five more Tuesday morning. I hurt my shoulder filling all those shells. (Don’t ask.) And did I mention that I didn’t think that the manicotti would be enough pasta? I didn’t. I decided to add mostaciolli to the menu and spent the rest of Tuesday afternoon making ten pounds of meatballs and three batches of Grandma’s sauce. Everything is in the freezer and ready to just toss into the roasters on Friday. Now I just have to make a couple more batches of sauce for the manicotti. That’ll be easy enough. It’s just a matter of dumping some ingredients and adding some spices and cooking on the stove for a couple hours. Yes, that will be easy enough if I’m not in jail for killing someone first.

You might have guessed that tensions are running a little high around here.  Some of the big stuff that could have been done, oh… I don’t know… anytime in the past year, as opposed to leaving everything until the last minute… didn’t get done before this week. Divorce court, session two nearly happened last night over the hanging of some pictures. Alright. Nine pictures, to be exact. I’ll explain. There’s a wall in our entryway that has never been decorated to my liking. Using the grad party as an excuse to do all the home improvements that we’ve let slide over the years, I decided to take care of that wall. I had nine of my flower photos printed. I framed them and enlisted Mark to facilitate the hanging of all of these photos. Did I mention the wall in question is a section of wall over the stairway to the lower level? Did I mention this project would require the use of an extension ladder? Did I mention that I had a vague idea of the placement of said pictures, but no solid plan because I was sure Mark could figure out details such as spacing and measurements and patterns? I just may have set my expectations a little too high and let me just tell you it was a recipe for disaster when things were not happening to my liking. Thankfully, Brad stepped in with a great idea for the placement. Tempers cooled and pictures got hung to my liking. Crisis averted.

On the plus side, this house is going to see a level of cleanliness and organization such as it hasn’t seen in a couple of years, since the last graduation party. I wonder if I’ll learn a lesson from this and face the next graduation party in two years with a little more organization and planning?

What?

It could happen!