Choosing the Good Thoughts

I’m so glad it’s Saturday. I’m sitting here enjoying the quiet start of a day. The windows are wide open and I hear the hum of crickets and tweeting of the morning birds outside. The sun has risen in a hazy sky, so the air is still cool and comfortable. Lucy and I went for our run a little while ago and saw places where the ground was blanketed in fog. So peaceful and pretty. It did me good to get out and run on a morning like this.

The past week was one of those where there never seemed to be enough hours in a day. The pace at work seems to grow more hectic every week as our current business grows and new possibilities abound. I have my hands in a little bit of everything, from account management to technology to the creative to exploring our ability to dive into new avenues.  And I like it that way. And just when I was beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed and slightly frustrated, there was this response to a project I’m involved in.

20140730 Brilliant b

The project lead’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect with this comment. I was feeling a little put upon because I’d been asked to draft some content for a web page. Writing isn’t one of the things I get paid to do, although I did plenty of it before we recently hired an official writer. I was just to the point this week of wondering why I’m still writing when they’re paying someone else to do it full-time. I have plenty enough other things to do that constitute my “real” job, I’m struggling to get it all done as it is, and nowhere in my job description does it say “writing.” This particular bit of feedback came after the project lead had a look at my words along with our graphic designer’s artistic talents.

Her comment was like a knock on the head. HELLO! I love to write! Why am I complaining about being asked to do it? Shouldn’t I instead be grateful to be given the opportunity now and then? And when I stopped to think about it, I was asked to draft the initial version, because I have knowledge. I know what information needs to be conveyed on this page, thanks to my years of experience with the company. The fact that I was asked to contribute speaks volumes about others’ faith in my abilities. The “official” writer will take my stuff and polish it up with his easy and fun tone, but it’s my ideas that will sit behind his work. Why was I griping about having to be involved? Oh yeah. Because I was letting myself get overwhelmed.

I’m really working to learn not to do that so much – being overwhelmed and anxious. I know it’s not a new concept – that having a peaceful mind is within my own control. I’ve always just assumed that it took a certain personality to put it into action and live that way. And I didn’t think I had that personality. I was hard-wired to be high-strung. But all of a sudden – whether it’s age or life experience – I suddenly get it. I’m slowly learning to reign in my focus. Instead of worrying what tomorrow will be like, or next week, next month, next year… I’m trying to just keep my sights on what I’m in control of right now.

I’m learning that not worrying, stressing and being full of anxiety doesn’t have to mean that I don’t care what happens in the future. It just means that I accept the fact that I ‘m not in control of it. Because of this new mindset, in the past few weeks, I feel lighter, not just emotionally calmer, but physically better as well. It’s like a whole new world has opened up to me. Instead of waking up every day feeling like “same old, same old,” I feel more like, “Bring it on!”

Of course it’s all new to me and I’m reminded that making a habit of staying centered is going to take time. I realized this after falling back into my old ways for a couple of days. I woke up yesterday morning with my stomach in knots and an ache in my head behind my eye. Could have been what I had for dinner the night before, but I like to think it could have had something to do with where my thoughts had been living, and that I’d forgotten for a while that I have the ability to change how I feel, for the better.

I signed up a while ago to receive these daily email messages, recommended by several friends at work. They’re a source of daily encouragement and inspiration. You can think of them as messages from God or the universe or just the guy behind a keyboard who comes up with awesome words to propel readers into their day with a can-do attitude. But I love them and they do my heart and mind good. I know each morning that my daily message is sitting in my inbox waiting for me and I look forward to that point in the morning when I let myself go see what waits for me that day. And no matter what the daily message is, it always ends with these same words:

Thoughts become things… choose the good ones!

It’s so true! I’m learning to choose the good ones, and it’s amazing how different, how much more inviting the world looks when I do.

My Grandma’s Lasting Gift

My Grandma T made memories for her family. She made real, tangible memories with her own hands, loads of colorful yarn, her crochet hooks and a lot of love.

Birthdays and wedding showers brought stripe-patterned afghans meant to keep Grandma T’s loved ones warm on cold nights. Christmases were sure to bring new pairs of mittens, playful winter hats or long, bright scarves. My grandma was a product of the Great Depression and she found ways to use up or reuse everything in her house. Some of her creations were a crazy mix of colors because she wanted to use up all the remnants of her yarn supplies. Her gifts often came wrapped up inside empty cereal boxes or round oatmeal cartons.

When my siblings and I were growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in our family. New things came to us only on special occasions. We nearly crawled out of our skin with anticipation of birthday and Christmas gifts. And like all kids, our wish lists included many of the latest and greatest toys, games, music or clothing. If we were lucky, we might get one or two of those wishes. But Grandma T didn’t give the latest and greatest kinds of things when she gave her gifts. And that was just fine with us. We adored Grandma T’s  homemade creations because we adored her. Many cold winter days, we could be found fighting over which colorful hats and mittens belonged to whom.

Lately, it’s been hard to sit at a desk all day at work. The cold outside air seems to seep inside the office, under doors and through the windows. Sometimes I get distracted from my work by the chill I can’t seem to fend off. A few of my coworkers keep a sort of cape at work for this very reason. I’ve seen this kind of cape in stores. It’s a sort of designer blanket, made so that one can get away with wrapping up in a blanket in the office, without looking like one is wrapped up in a blanket. I’ve considered buying one. I’m just really reluctant to spend twenty-five, thirty dollars or more on something I’ll only use in the office. So I simply hope I’ll be absorbed enough in my projects that I don’t notice the cold. Or I try to remember to put on extra layers of clothing. Or I forget and suffer.

A few weeks ago, I was staring at all of the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear. At the far side of the closet are things that are worn infrequently, or things that aren’t mine but couldn’t be parted with for one reason or another. Brad’s high school graduation gown is there. We had to buy it before the years when the school decided to just rent them. Kacey’s prom dresses are there too.

There was something else at that far end of the closet. It has been there for years. I’ve looked at it a million times and can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now. It was one of the many memories that Grandma T made for me while she was still here with us – a cream-colored, lovingly crafted cape. My memory might be fuzzy on exactly when she gave this to me, but I know I was young, in my grade school years, I’m sure. And I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I didn’t wear it often, either because I was pretty much a tomboy who would rather wear her Smokey the Bear sweatshirt, or because my mom was afraid I’d ruin the cape while in the midst of my tomboy pursuits.  Years ago, after I was married and living in a house of my own, Mom gave the cape to me to keep. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but Grandma T had made it for me. She was long gone by that time and I couldn’t stand the idea of giving it up. So it has hung in the closet, unused all of these years, until that day a few weeks ago.

I pulled it out and wrapped it around my shoulders. The cape had been made for a child, but it was still plenty big enough to wrap around my adult shoulders and cover my adult arms. I knew how I would keep warm at work whenever the chills set in from then on.

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

And it has "arm" holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

And it has “arm” holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

There are so many times I’ve been reminded of and missed my Grandma T. She loved her family so dearly. She was so quick to dole out praise and so generous with her heart. She was “home” to all of her daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Even as kids, the world could be such a difficult place, but when we were in the company of our grandparents, everything seemed simple and easy. How could we not miss Grandma T every single day? There are times I still hear her calling me Honey Girl and I still miss how she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly. Now I have a daily reminder of Grandma T to put a smile on my face. And I’ll bet she’d love the fact that her tomboy granddaughter is finally so happy to wear the beautiful cape she made.

A few of Grandma T’s mittens, hats and scarves still occupy space in the winter-wear bins in our front closet. They rarely if ever get worn. Some of her afghans are still folded up neatly in a cabinet in the family room. They are too short to cover our long bodies, so we opt for the newer, heavier fleece blankets instead. But all these years later, the cape is finally, happily worn!

And the sun came out

The weatherman was saying last night that a big snowstorm was on its way. Yesterday, we enjoyed the one “warm-up” we were going to see in January and already, he was telling us that the weather was going back in the wrong direction. He pointed at a map of the state that was dotted with colors. The big, blue blob moving over our area signified snow; lots of it. He said this morning’s commute was going to be a mess. I only half believed him. The weather has been a presence lately, but you just never know when it will decide not to live up to the hype. Figured I’d get up at the usual time and if a snowstorm was in progress, I’d skip doing yoga and just go straight to the shower. If there was no snow, I’d exercise and go about my normal routine.

When the alarm went off, I shuffled to the family room to look out the big front window and see whether the weather guy had been right. I couldn’t quite decide. Under the glow of the street light, I could see it was definitely snowing. The flakes were tiny but the snowfall was dense and it was coming down fast. Looking across the front yard to the street though, there didn’t appear to be much accumulation. But I knew it wouldn’t take much to mess up the morning drive. So straight to the shower I went.

Within the hour, I had showered, fed the dog, prodded Jake to get up and  get a head start on his own commute. I unloaded the dishwasher, drank a cup of coffee, blow-dried my hair and applied some make up. The last thing I needed to do was make a lunch and while I was doing it, I kept an eye on the falling snow. It was obvious. The weatherman had been dead-on.

I was in my car and on my way a good forty minutes earlier than usual. The roads were covered with snow, the division of lanes indecipherable. Traffic on the freeway crawled. It took me over an hour to get to work and the sky remained dusky; no hint of the sun. My windshield wipers struggled to keep the window clear of melting snow and ice. The defroster blasted on high but couldn’t keep up with the crusts of slush and ice forming on the other side. Several times, I rolled down the side window and reached out to wipe off the snow that kept building upward where the lower portion of the driver’s side wiper was failing. (I have got to get some new wipers!) Clumps of snow flung backwards beneath the tires of the cars that surrounded me.

Driving in these conditions stresses me out. This winter, I’ve seen more stalled vehicles, spin-outs, crashes and rollovers than I can ever remember. Earlier this week, there was a car in the ditch, upside down. The scene moved along outside the passenger window in slow motion while a state trooper pulled over to help. That kind of thing freaks me out. And there are always a handful of drivers that think they’re invincible, driving faster than the flow of traffic, cutting off others, zipping from one lane to another with little regard for anyone else. I’m so tired of feeling like I’m putting my life on the line every day just to get to work.

I couldn’t breathe easy until I was safely parked in my company lot. I felt worn out before I’d even begun my work day. So when I walked in, before I took off my jacket, I decided I was not going to carry that weight around with me for the rest of my day. I poked my head into my coworker, Lori’s cube and with more enthusiasm than I really felt, I smiled big and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? Don’t you just love these Minnesota winters?”

Playing right along, Lori exclaimed, “Oh, yes! The snow is so pretty! What a lovely day this is!”

And then we laughed and rolled our eyes and went off to work. But honestly, I felt lighter and brighter than I had just a few moments earlier. The snow continued to fall outside while I immersed myself in my job. And when it was time to go home, the sun was shining fiercely, casting dramatic tree shadows over a new, crusty layer of snow. And it was cold again. Really cold. But the sun was shining. Not for much longer. But it was shining. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask.

Sun 2

Confidence fueled by confidence

Twice in recent weeks, I had an opportunity to observe the way one of our kids handled and reacted to a particular challenge in life. Two different problems. Two different kids. In one case, Mark and I found ourselves later remarking on how well one kid handled a particular issue. We were impressed with the fact that we were welcomed to a discussion about it and how maturely the problem was handled. We offered up some opinions, but no advice was really needed. The problem was handled in a way that met with this kid’s comfort level. As I thought about that child’s ability to deal – with so many things – the words poise and grace came to mind. I said as much to Mark, proud that our kids have grown up so well in so many ways. He said he wondered how long it would be before this particular kid lost that positive approach and became jaded like the rest of us. I was a bit astonished at his cynicism and said I thought it might be easier to maintain such a healthy attitude without someone insisting that it was pointless.

Second scenario. Another of our young-adult children encountered a minor failure, which was clearly perceived as anything but minor. In spite of assurances that we were not disappointed, in spite of offers for a discussion in the hopes of helping to figure out how to solve this problem, this time, we were met with a person who was clearly embarrassed and wanted to shut us out. This kid wanted anything but to discuss the problem with us and hastily assured us that things could be handled without our input. They can be. But I wish my child didn’t feel the need to go it alone.

In my job, I’m offered constant opportunities to be challenged, to learn and to grow my skills. I truly enjoy the work that I do and am almost always willing to try pushing the boundaries of my knowledge and experience. It’s what makes my job so fulfilling. Today as I was wrapping up an afternoon meeting, the conference room door slowly opened and our CEO poked his head inside.

“I don’t mean to interrupt.” Pointing at me, he continued, “But when you’re done, I need your help.”

“Okay,” I said. There must have been a big question mark on my face. I don’t usually work directly with the CEO, although I have had several random chances over the years and I always know that when he comes looking for help, there’s something interesting ahead.

“I just finished writing my quarterly President’s report,” he explained. “I need someone to proofread and clean it up. You’re good with this stuff. It’ll just take you five minutes. Five minutes is all.”

“Alright. I’ll be done here soon.” I said. “Did you email it to me already?”

“Nah, I thought you could just come sit at my desk and go over it. Really. Five minutes is all you’ll need.”

Proofreading. It’s not the most fun work I can think to do. But I like our CEO. He has the ability to inspire enthusiasm and he seems to have a knack for figuring out the “thing” about his employees. One person might be his go-to design person. Another might be the one he seeks out for sports or movie or political conversation. There’s sure to be a numbers guy and a technology expert. Someone else (like me,) might be the word person, even when (like me,) that person doesn’t have a formal education focused on words, grammar, and punctuation. But it’s amazing how willing and able a person might be at a particular skill when someone else expresses utter confidence in their abilities.

I know I can hold my own in the words, grammar and punctuation department. But the funny thing is, we just hired someone whose job it is to be the communications expert. In the shadow of a word expert, I might doubt my abilities to some extent. Yet the CEO came to me. And the guy who gets paid to deal with the company’s words was busy anyway. And so I was in good humor about the whole thing.

After my meeting, I walked over to the big guy’s office and he invited me to have a seat in his chair. Four pages were waiting for my clean-up, which really might not have taken much more than five minutes, but for the fact that the CEO was feeling a bit chatty. It was hard to absorb the words and characters on the screen in front of me while still trying to pay attention to the friendly conversation directed my way.

“Do you speak Spanish?”

“Nope. Not me,” I said. “My daughter  speaks it pretty well. When she was in high school, she would randomly tell me certain things in Spanish and I found I could understand a lot of it. But I can’t speak it.”

“Darn. My daughter’s in Spain for a semester and my wife and I are going to visit. I bought one of those programs that teaches you a foreign language, but I’d like to try speaking with someone else in Spanish and see if I’m getting the hang of it.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I took German in high school.”

“Ah! Sprechen sie Deutch?” he asked. (Do you speak German?)

“Nur ein bisschen,” I admitted. (Only a little.)

I found it impossible to admit that he was distracting me from the work he wanted me to do. He’s the head honcho, after all, and I didn’t want to rub him the wrong way. But I found that if I responded to his commentary a bit distractedly, he’d give me a break long enough for me to make progress on my proofreading duties. While I worked my way through his report, rectifying a complete overuse of dashes and misuse of capitalization, the CEO cleaned up piles of papers on his desk, chatting amiably as he organized. He remarked it was a nice break for him to be forced away from his computer and to have to get things under control around his office.

I asked for clarification on a couple of items. I didn’t want to “correct” something I might be misunderstanding. He assured me that he had faith that I knew what I was doing and could really just go with my instincts on everything. With the CEO having such confidence in my abilities, I really wasn’t worried that I’d drop the ball, even though this report would be making its way to a bunch of big-wigs not long after I was through with it.

self-confidenceIn my job, I often find that a project or challenge doesn’t seem so daunting when someone else clearly has no doubt that I can manage it. When this is the case, I believe in myself so much more than I otherwise might have. It’s amazing what you can achieve when all doubt and insecurity is removed. In fact, I’m pretty certain this is why I could “fight” for weeks trying to find a few promising numbers and rarely worrying that I wouldn’t eventually find the answers I was looking for.

As I think about my kids’ ups and downs, I wonder what we sometimes did right and sometimes did wrong in teaching them to overcome challenges. When faced with a struggle, why was one of them able to manage so effortlessly and without feeling weighed down, while the other wanted only to brush the problem under the rug? Of course, at any time, the tables could turn. And another time, faced with another problem, the kid who seemed so strong this time might end up feeling at a loss. Depending on the challenge, the kid who wanted to run away from this recent problem might impress everyone with an ability to conquer. It makes me wonder if at the first sign of struggle in one of our kids, did we worry so much about that particular weakness that we failed to instill in them an ability to overcome it? Of course as a parent, you constantly try to encourage and lift up your children. But are the words sometimes not enough? Does the doubt sometimes show through, even when you’re trying to keep it at bay? When one displayed any kind of strength, were we so confident in a child that he or she could easily continue to grow and develop that strength without ever looking back?

I wish I’d known it all along, but some things only come with age and experiences. I wish I had been confident enough to believe and pass on to my kids when they were very young, that so much more is possible than you can ever imagine. Every strength and every weakness is not necessarily permanent. Sometimes all you have to do is imagine it to get off on the right foot. It helps to have someone else believe in you. It’s so much easier to believe in your own abilities when someone else sees them inside of you. But ultimately, you really just need to believe in yourself.

When I think of all the people I’ve known and encountered in my years, all of the personality types and different ways I’ve seen people deal with the world, I wonder if when things are so bad, it’s because people just lose hope and any sense of optimism. How much better things might be if everyone had someone to have faith in them.

That feels like something for me to work on. Believing in my own family, the people I love and want to succeed, is pretty easy most of the time. Not always, but more often than not. Others? It’s sometimes easier to just write ‘em off. I’ve been known to tell my sometimes cynical husband that what you expect of someone is often what they’ll give you. Might be good to keep that in mind myself.

Day-tuh!

I had one of these days at work today… the kind of day when… well…

A big part of my job involves working with data, the details of which would be monotonous and boring to most. If you’d tried to sell me on it a few years ago, my response would have been along the lines of “What? NO!” But I enjoy it. I really do.

My company uses data for different purposes, depending on what our clients need. And we’re still sort of new to it all. Sort of. Big picture-wise. But we’re improving and growing every day.

Several weeks ago, one of my clients contacted me and asked if I could prove some specific results of the services we provide. We have all kinds of reports, but this particular result? Well, there’s not an automated way to produce it. But I had a strong feeling that if I could produce it, I could prove something valuable. If I could prove it, this client would be steering several other potential clients in our direction.

I set out to do some research. For the past few weeks, I’ve been filtering data extracts and comparing extracts from one date to the next. I’ve been trying to document the data changes in such a way to show a specific result, in an easy-to-understand manner.

Our staff is stretched a little thin and there are a lot of irons in the fire. My boss mentioned that while my goal was admirable, she didn’t think it was my job to prove what I was trying to prove. She felt bad that there wasn’t a report I could just call up to provide my client, and said she didn’t feel I should have to spend my time trying to find the proof I needed. She insinuated that if I was going to continue working on this, it should be filler work.

data-analysisThis project has been filling every spare moment I’ve had for weeks. And I have put so much effort into things that turned out to be dead-ends. Two days ago, I thought I’d finally hit my mark, only to find another inconsistency that shed doubt on my results. I was ready to throw it all in the trash and pull my hair out.

Thankfully, I have a coworker who is a big picture person. While I know what I can and cannot do with the data, and at times was ready to throw in the towel, she’s an idea person who keeps asking questions until she gets where she wants to be. She kept asking me questions. Some wrong questions. Some right. “Can you do this? Can you do that? If you could find X… would it prove Y?”

All of that trial and error, all of those questions… Today it finally added up to the answer I was looking for! I know… I know there is a way to automate a process to achieve that kind of result, but as of now, it doesn’t exist. And as of today, I found it anyway! I was hoping and praying that this result was the one that I needed and it was.

I feel like I’ve been fighting these past few weeks and I was really beginning to feel like it was all for nothing. And just when I was ready to walk away from the whole thing, I got excited about the project all over again and found exactly what I’ve been looking for. This is exactly the kind of thing that reminds me what it is I love so much about what I do. Kind of geeky, I know. Never would have guessed I had it in me. Feels GREAT!

I still have to polish things up a bit before I send anything to my client. But now I feel confident in the information I’ll be providing and I know my client will be more than pleased to see these results.

So yep! It was that kind of day; the kind that makes me excited to go back to work tomorrow. I am so grateful that I get to do what I do.

Still in a holiday-lazy groove

I had to go back to work today after having the past two days off in honor of the New Year. This morning felt like Monday all over again. And it wasn’t easy getting out of bed. It’s been so cold for the past couple of weeks! I have a blanket, a heavy comforter and a quilt on the bed. Last night I threw a fleece blanket on top for good measure. Mark was gone to work for the night, so I tried to convince one of the dogs to curl up and share some body heat, but when Brad and Heather are home, which they are right now, Lucy forgets I exist and attaches herself like velcro to Heather’s side for the duration of their stay. Dacotah, sick of fighting for attention against Lucy, hung out with me for a while, but soon wandered off to find her own people again.

cold-weather-winter-outdoors-indoors-seasonal-ecards-someecards

Can you tell I’m one of those people who can never get warm? Now I remember why I was in an exercise slump around this time last year. Just the thought of making even the short jaunt from the gym parking lot into the gym in this kind of cold is almost painful. Of course now that Jillian Michaels lives in my DVD player, I can’t use that excuse anymore.

I didn’t exercise this morning, though. I had the best of intentions of going to the gym, but … it was  seriously cold out. Also, I didn’t really sleep much last night. The combination of “kids” home on break from school and work, coming and going, the dogs romping around as long as someone was awake, and Dacotah periodically wandering back in to stick her nose in my face and make sure I was still in my bed, all kept me from getting a solid night of sleep.

I was kind of cranky as I drove to work today. In weather this cold, the roads can be icy even when they don’t look it. But some drivers drive stupid anyway and it annoys me. And then I was thinking about how once I arrived at work, how much I didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying coworker who constantly comes across as such a phony and always manages to push my buttons. I literally prayed as I drove that she would call in sick. No such luck. She showed up to work not long after I arrived.

But I was busy after a couple of days away. There was plenty of catching up to do, several month-end processes to complete and a couple of client “fires” to put out. I barely had a free moment to spare and thankfully, my coworker kept her distance. It also helps that I’ve finally learned to refuse to respond when she initiates conversation over the cubicle wall. If she can’t come address me directly, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear her. It helps.

The day was full enough that it passed quickly. I got everything caught up and under control, enough for me to have one more day off tomorrow. I figured that since the kids are home, I might as well make use of all that PTO time I accumulated over the past year and stretch out the holidays just one more day. So by afternoon, that Monday feeling had passed and the Friday feeling took over.

Sure is going to feel strange to have to work all five days next week. But I think it’ll do me good to get back into a normal routine again.

A New Adventure – Business Travel!

Before yesterday, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve traveled by airplane. (Hard to believe, isn’t it? But it’s true. I’m a very inexperienced traveler.) So I felt a little anxious when a business client asked me  to come to Pittsburgh for a meeting, along with our company’s Vice President, Brian. I wasn’t nervous so much about the meeting itself. I’ve been the account manager for this client for a couple of years now and I speak regularly by phone with my contacts there. I’m comfy with all of them. What bothered me more was the thought of  navigating airports. I knew I could rely on Brian once we met up at the departure gate. I was just worried about making it that far on my own. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. But it all came out well in the end and I have a new experience behind me. I know I could do it again with more confidence, but business travel isn’t going to turn into a regular thing and I’m actually glad for that.

We had plans to travel to and from Pittsburgh all in the same day. I was all set to drive myself to the airport on Tuesday morning and made sure I had a good idea of where I had to go to park and get to a security check-point. Then the day before, my boss mentioned that I might want to check the parking ramp status online before I left home. If the ramp was full, I’d have to drive over to the other terminal and park, then take the light rail back to the main terminal. I tried not to show it, but this information  caused my anxiety level to jump to the next level. She said not to worry, though. I’d probably be fine. But the idea was planted and I worried some more.

Thankfully, Mark offered to drop me off on the morning of my trip and my friend, Tammy said she would pick me up when I returned. I could breathe a little easier knowing I didn’t have to worry about parking or traveling between terminals and trying to make it where I needed to be on time.

Monday night, I went to bed early, hoping for a good night’s sleep before my big meeting. I hadn’t been sleeping much the past week because I pulled a muscle in my back while bowling last week. Every time I turned over in my sleep, a sharp pain would wake me up. I was hoping it would ease up after a week but it hadn’t. Not much. I didn’t sleep but a few hours the night before my trip. It was partly because of my back and partly because I couldn’t turn off my brain enough to get back to sleep once I’d awakened. So I was wide awake and ready to head to the airport at five in the morning. Mark dropped me off and I found the security check point. There was a huge, snaking line of travelers and I went to join them. Two TSA agents were positioned at the entrance of the security area, checking boarding passes. One of them looked at my pass and said, “You have express check-in,” (or something like that.) He pointed to an empty lane along the back of the snaking lanes of travelers. “Just go right through here. You don’t have to take off your shoes or jacket.” I didn’t know why I’d earned this privilege, but I was happy. I breezed through security and was able to figure out pretty easily where my gate was and how to get there. Things were relatively quiet that early in the morning. That wasn’t so hard! I got started reading a book while I waited for Brian to arrive.

The flight to Pittsburgh was uneventful and after watching out the window during takeoff, I went back to reading. We arrived on time and Brian steered us through the airport to the tram. We rode the tram to where the rental car kiosk was and Brian took care of  the necessary details for getting a car. Soon we were on the road and headed to our client’s place of business. Brian paid attention to the GPS directions while I looked out the window at the Pittsburgh landscape. I noticed how some things were so similar to home and others were so very different.

We arrived at our client’s offices and were given a quick tour. We got to put faces to the names and voices of the people we’ve been working with for so long. After lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse, it was time for business and our three-hour meeting began. I marveled at how different people appeared in person, as opposed to the images I had created in my mind of each one. And I also marveled at how closely the appearance of one person matched the picture I had in my head. One woman impressed me with her knowledge and passion. Another struck me as such a character. She chewed a wad of gum dramatically while she spoke and she had the biggest, hot pink water jug I’ve ever seen in my life! I swear, it was the size of an ice cream pail! The meeting itself was good, with nothing earth-shattering to discuss and we were simply able to affirm that the business relationship is strong, our client is happy and we’ll continue to grow and move forward with the services we provide. Our client had scheduled the meeting to go until four o’clock. We had a 5:23 pm departure.

Someone forgot to consider the effect of rush-hour traffic on our travel time back to the airport.

A wrong turn added another ten minutes to our drive and soon we were racing out of Pittsburgh and watching the clock while Brian commented that we were really pushing our time limits. I sat in the passenger seat thinking how much I didn’t want to spend the night in Pittsburgh. I was exhausted and anxious to get home to my family. Brian did his best to get us to the airport without drawing the attention of any law enforcement officials. We finally arrived and I checked the clock again. We still had maybe a half hour until take-off. Brian pulled into the rental car return and asked me where I thought he was supposed to leave the car. “You’re asking the wrong person,” I said. “Remember? I don’t get out much.” Finally, he pulled up in line behind another car and we got out. He asked me if he was supposed to leave the keys in the car. “Brian, I don’t know!” I said. Thankfully, an employee saw us standing around looking uncertain.

“Returning?” he asked.

“YES!”

“Take the keys to that guy over there in the booth. You have to do something before you go.”

The guy in the booth came out to meet us and took the keys. “Need a receipt?” he asked.

“Not today,” said Brian. We hustled across a street and into the airport where we came upon a line of travelers so long that we couldn’t actually see the security checkpoint. And Brian hadn’t printed out his boarding pass ahead of time. (And he had made fun of me for my lack of travel experience just a few days earlier!)

“Where do I print out my boarding pass?” he asked me.

“Brian! I don’t know!” I said. We looked around but couldn’t see anywhere for him to do so. He told me to hold our place in line while he went to look around. I was just standing there, thinking how I’d have to find my way back to the tram, then take it to the departure gate. I might have to manage it all without Brian’s help. I was nervous, but I’d come this far and knew that I could follow the signs or ask for help along the way. But I wasn’t even sure I would make my flight on time and then I’d be left to figure out how to get home on my own. This was all just so much for an inexperienced traveler.

I was standing in line, trying to read the departure board and figure out where my gate was, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone waving. It was Brian, yelling, “Come on! I found it.”

We had to go up another level and I waited while he printed his pass. When he was done, he noticed a sign and turned toward a TSA agent. I followed close behind and saw what Brian was looking at, a sign that said Alternate Security. Brian confirmed with the agent that we could go there and we soon found ourselves in another snaking line of people. At least this time, we could see the security checkpoint.

Brian checked his watch over and over and kept saying, “We’re not gonna make it.” I had been excited to experience a new place, but by this time, all I wanted was to get back to Minnesota. I started praying that somehow we’d make it. As we slowly moved closer to security, Brian asked another agent if he could shortcut us to the front of the line. We were surely going to miss our flight. The agent had the decency to look apologetic but said he couldn’t help us. He pointed to another agent and said, “Once you’re a little closer, she might let you through.”

The line moved painfully slowly, and Brian checked his phone for other flights. He was that sure we were going to miss ours. He was just saying that we could catch a six o’clock flight, have dinner in Atlanta, and then go back to Minneapolis when the woman agent who’d been pointed out to us came over and asked, “You two together?”

“YES,” we said!

“Come with me.” There were only about five people ahead of us at this point, but she got us through ahead of them and we were grateful. After making it through security, I asked Brian, “Think we’ll make it?”

“No,” he laughed. “We still have to take the tram!”

“Sh*t, I forgot about that,” I sighed. But still, we hustled. We were standing, waiting for the tram when Brian held up his cell phone and said, “I missed a call. It’s a Pittsburgh number.”

He called back and I heard him say, “This is Brian X. I just received a call from you. Yes! We’re waiting for the tram right now. Thanks!”

He was smiling when he said, “That was Delta. They’re holding the flight for us but we’ve got to get there fast!”

Google Images

Google Images

The tram arrived and we boarded. I willed the doors to close so we could move faster and we finally made it to the right place. Our gate was in sight and suddenly we heard our names over the loudspeaker. “Brian X and Terri X. You have one minute to board.” I didn’t even wait for Brian. I took off sprinting and he quickly followed suit. The ticket agents scanned our passes and waved us through. As we were running down the ramp to the airplane doorway, a male flight attendant with a good sense of humor cheered us on, saying, “Mr. Brian X! Come on down! Terri X! Come on down!

We were laughing and out of breath as we walked between the rows of seats. I tried not to notice the disapproving looks on the faces of the other passengers as I located my seat and sunk down into it with a sense of complete and utter relief. I sent a quick text to Mark to let him know I was on my way back and then turned off my phone. I took out my book and picked up where I’d left off earlier that day and only a while later did I realize how tightly wound I must have been all day long. The lack of sleep and all the nervousness had caught up with me. My eyes felt like they would pop out of the sockets and my head was pounding. I just wanted to get back home. But as I sat there feeling completely exhausted I heard a woman’s voice behind me singing Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…. And then the belly laugh of a toddler. Such a sweet sound. It made me smile. Not long afterwards, I heard the little one begging Mom, “Wanna hi. Wanna hi! Wanna HI!” Then right over my shoulder, I heard, “Ha-eeeee, Ha-eeee, HA-EEEEE!”

I turned around and saw the cutest button nose, a baby smile squished behind a pacifier, and a little set of eyes twinkling at me over the back of my seat. I realized that the little guy had been asking Mom if he could say hi to me. I couldn’t help but return his smile. He melted my heart.

“Hi!” I said to him. “What’s your name?”

“Whshwhshy” he said from behind the pacifier.

“Oh… how old are you?”

“Whswhsy,” he said.

I held up two fingers. “This many?”

Cutie Pie nodded at me and then Mom said he had to sit back down and that cute button nose disappeared again behind my seat. A while later I heard again, “Wanna hi. Wanna hi! Wanna HI!” But this time, Mom said no more. I was a little disappointed.

I couldn’t read any more. My eyes hurt. I couldn’t sleep either. So I rode out the rest of the flight just staring ahead. Finally, we landed. I texted Tammy to let her know I’d arrived and then called her to let her know at which door I was waiting. We chatted all the way home and when she dropped me off, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and went straight to bed. And slept. All night long.

I did it. Without making a fool of myself or getting completely lost. I’d do it all again if I was asked. But I’m not in a hurry.