What’s important. What’s not.

I’m really trying not to let this summer just slip by. It feels like it just got here, but already we’re seeing preparations for the Fourth of July. I would like to just stop and enjoy what’s here right now, thank you. As soon as the Fourth comes along, my mindset shifts to the idea that summer’s half over. Which is ridiculous because it truly has barely begun at that point. I need to have a talk with my mindset.

The weather has been a perfect balance of sun and warmth, and just the right amount of rain. I feel so fortunate to be getting just what we need, especially while recognizing that so many other places around the country are seeing extremes.

Summer gets me into my really happy place. I love dressing for warmer weather, and not having to wear a bulky jacket. I love taking a break in the middle of my workday to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise while walking around the pond and simultaneously feeling the sun soaking into my skin. I love wearing sunglasses and a soft breeze blowing my hair. And dinners taste better when cooked on the grill and eaten out on the deck under the shade of the canopy.

And having Kacey home for the summer is such a blessing. No offense to the menfolk of the household, but it’s nice to have another female around for a change. We can gab for hours about things the boys just don’t get. And she’s such a great storyteller. I feel like I know her coworkers and friends through the tales she tells, and there’s no shortage of humor in the way she describes her world.

Also, she’s an awesome gym buddy. My usual gym buddy, Erin and I only meet twice a week, so normally, it’s up to me to be self-motivating on the off-days. And sometimes, it can be too easy to allow myself to be a slacker. So I was pleasantly surprised when Kacey said she planned to get on the 5 am gym bandwagon while she’s home for the summer. And she’s held to it. Between the three of us, we’re expanding beyond cardio, and I’m tackling my fear of the machines and free-weights. And both my body and mind are thankful for it. I feel good!

2015-06-20Out in the bird house, the wrens have had their babies. We haven’t seen the little ones yet, but we can hear their tiny chorus of chirping as they beg to be fed. Mama and Daddy wren have been busy flying back and forth, making their way in and out of the house trying to keep their brood fed while Lucy keeps watch.

At work this week, there was a someone-dropped-the-ball situation. Nothing earth-shattering in the broad scheme of things, but it brewed into an ugly finger-pointing and it looked like I was going to take the fall for it. There was a meeting in which  I was surrounded by a group of people who were senior to me and after a few attempts to backtrack to what had actually transpired, one person kept tossing the blame back on me. I felt about this big and was certain everyone had reduced me to a moron in their minds. Since we couldn’t go back in time to rectify the situation (which, again, was a fairly minor hurdle,) the conversation ended with everyone choosing to believe what they believed. My boss left the meeting early, I guessed seeing the pointlessness of it all and having other important things to do.

I went back to my desk afterwards, wracking my brain in an attempt to call up the details of past events, and for the life of me, could not recall a situation where I should have done things differently. Believe me, I would have owned up to it if I’d honestly felt it was my fault. I have a good track record at work and would be willing to admit that I’d made a mistake if I’d thought I actually had. But based on my documentation, I really couldn’t confidently claim ownership of this one. I honestly think it was a matter of several parties just getting their wires crossed, and as so often happens, lack of proper communication.

While I was back at my desk, working and stewing over the situation, I received an email from my boss asking if I was interested in taking a walk around the pond. Here we go, I thought. I’m gonna get chewed out.

But, no. As we headed outside toward the pond and walking path, my boss asked, Did you feel like you were getting thrown under the bus?

Oh, yeah. I said. Completely. I told her I’d be willing to take the blame if I honestly thought the mistake was mine, but I just couldn’t find a scrap of memory in my mind where I now thought I should have done something I didn’t.

Stop, she told me. I know you, and I know you’re making yourself crazy trying to figure out what you might have done wrong. I breathed a cautious sigh of relief and thanked her. Why had I thought she would chew me out? She has never once dealt with anyone that way.

You know I trust you, right? She asked. I assured her that I’ve always felt trusted and supported by her.

Then stop killing yourself over this. This is not on you. It was [the blaming person] who failed to check facts with the rest of the team before finalizing the project. Considering the length of time this has been in the works, all the people involved and all of the moving parts, it was [the blaming person]’s responsibility to make sure this didn’t happen.

She went on to tell me that she had left the meeting early because she was “so pissed” on my behalf that she couldn’t respond to [the blaming person] in any semblance of a professional manner. She said that [the blaming person] has a long-standing and well-known attitude of it’s business, not personal, which seems to allow her to act and speak in unthinkable ways and it’s getting old. My boss assured me that there wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t see through [the blaming person]’s smokescreen. No one else there thought I should be taking the fall for this, and she informed me that the VP was livid on my behalf. And ultimately, it was [the blaming person] who was directed to rectify the situation.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my boss? Afterwards, it was tempting to hold a grudge against [the blaming person], but I was just so relieved to know that my boss had my back that I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. And ultimately, I feel sorry for [the blaming person]. She has a brilliant mind, but she’s an island. It must be awfully lonely being her at times. And based on her approach with me after all was said and done, I can tell that she truly didn’t think she’d done anything hurtful. She was leaning on me for support in her efforts, asking my opinion, letting me know she values my capabilities, just like she typically does.

The longer I’m in the corporate world, the more I’m reminded, this is not who I am. It’s just what I do. I’m fortunate to be passionate about many aspects of it, but I can see that if it were one day gone from me… there’d be something else to take its place and I’d get by. So I’ll do it for as long as I’m allowed and as long as it serves my family’s needs.

And at any rate, I am just so happy it’s summer and it’s the weekend! Moving on!

Opting not to be defeated

I woke up this morning and sensed the sun slipping through the bedroom window beneath the shade. I hadn’t pulled it all the way down last night. The air outside was comfortable and I wanted to sleep with the breeze drifting in.

I peeked at the clock. Five-thirty. Nope. I closed my eyes again and drifted off before I heard Lucy trot into the room and felt her drop her chin on the bed next to my face. She offered a short, pleading whine, and when I refused to open my eyes and acknowledge her, she leapt up and over me and then back down from Mark’s side of the bed, all in one continuous motion. She’s such a stinker. She wants what she wants, when she wants it.

I opened one eye to look at the clock again. Six-thirty. I decided I was agreeable to taking the spoiled, little princess out for a morning walk.

The past week at work was full of challenges, both of the good and not-so-much variety. A particular colleague continues to combat my sense of balance. While most of our small team has a good sense of give and take and support for one another, she seems to feel the need to not only position herself above everyone else, but to undermine the rest of us. I often wish I had the nerve to remind her that we are all truly peers! No one is above another.

She and I are currently working on two separate but related projects. In an informal meeting she had on Thursday with some of the IT staff, one of them suggested they call me in to collaborate. This would have shed some light on the work I was doing. She had a conniption fit, to the point she felt the need to tell me about it afterwards and attempt to justify her behavior. As she described it, she angrily asked if they were altering the purpose of the meeting and if so, she would drop out so that they could collaborate with me instead. She told everyone present that I was overwhelmed with my job duties at the present time and that they would be imposing on me by calling me into their discussion. Apparently, she made everyone so uncomfortable with her words and tone that they avoided her for the rest of the day. She’s well-known for her air of condescension, but there are times when it becomes downright unprofessional. This was clearly one of those times. She didn’t need to tell me what had happened. I wish she hadn’t. But it was obvious that she felt the need to describe the events in a way that might convince me she was somehow protecting me, in case someone else might get to me first with an uglier description of the events.

Several times afterwards, she stopped by to say, “I hope you’re not mad at me for not wanting to bring you into the meeting.”

I was mad. Not so much because she blocked me from a meeting that would have helped me do my work. I was already doing well enough on my own… but there’s a lot to do and anything that makes things easier is always appreciated. No, I was upset because she seems to think it’s acceptable to act as a human roadblock. Not wanting to give her the satisfaction, I shrugged it off and insisted my project was sailing along just fine and I was more than capable of obtaining any information I needed to get my work done. It was true. I did exactly that before Friday was over with initial testing of the project showing almost perfect results. But the fallout of her behavior is that several people later initiated communications with me with the words, “I know you’re swamped, but …”

“Swamped.” That was the exact word she’d told me she used when she lost her cool in her meeting. So I knew there had been a ripple effect from her outburst that caused others to approach me cautiously. That’s what frustrated me so much. I like to work. I welcome new experiences and opportunities. Her behavior could have caused others to pass me by when they would have otherwise invited me in. Probably not. People know me well enough not to let this one thing steer them away from me if I’m really needed. But it was apparent she’d created at least a temporary sense of hesitation.

As Lucy and I walked this morning, I was able to unwind from the stress of the week. The sun was brilliant at that time of the day. The sky was striped with alternating stretches of clear blue and white, puffy clouds. Cottonwood drifted down from the trees, dusting the ground with a blanket of white.

Lucy raced and stopped, pulled and sniffed. She’s not a well-trained dog, to put it mildly. I’ve tried, but she’s got such enthusiasm for the people we encounter along our route. I hold her back, never knowing who might be a dog lover and who might not. But if she could talk, I can imagine what she’d say to those she meets. Hi! Hello! Let me lick your knees! Don’t you want to pet me? 

Everything is an adventure to Lucy. She makes me see things I otherwise might miss. She wanted to chase a black squirrel, and a huge rabbit that disappeared underneath a white picket fence almost before Lucy caught sight of her. She made me laugh and relax. Along the way, as my dog sniffed every scent she encountered, I admired the artwork of spring. Lawns and trees and open spaces along the way seemed to be orchestrated in perfect harmony. Colors seem so brilliant this time of year, the greens so deep, the whites so clean, the yellows and pinks and reds so bursting with brilliance. Even some of those things we usually consider to be weeds were boasting pretty flowers. As we strolled past the farm, I contemplated the huge, old trees that had been allowed to stretch upwards and outwards, unmanicured for years,  their trunks and branches spreading high, and wide. Climbing trees. If I’d have been younger and without a dog, I might have climbed up inside of the branches and relaxed among the leaves for a while.

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The walk allowed me to take a step back from the situation at work. This colleague who continues to frustrate me is not a person of integrity. I’ve known this for years. She’s either openly ugly, or obviously phony with her fake smiles and insincere compliments. I don’t know why I allow her to continue causing me turmoil inside. If I’m not her target, it’s certainly someone else. And quite honestly, it’s so obvious that everything she says and does comes from a place of insecurity. She outright told me that in her meeting, the person who suggested they call me in, said he considered me the most knowledgeable or experienced in the area they were discussing. This set her off, I’m sure, but ironically, it was she who helped ensure I became just that! Whenever work in this area comes up and she doesn’t want to do it, she pawns it off on me, flavoring her requests with words such as, “I thought you’d be the best person to work on this. You’ve already done so much work in this arena and have the most expertise.”

Apparently she uses that particular compliment to get me to do work she doesn’t want to do. It’s not okay when someone else says it and means it.

During my walk, I realized that as difficult as my colleague continues to be, she helps me better myself. She makes me dig deep, to really think about who I am, who I want to be, and what I’m really capable of. She displays the kind of behaviors I make note to always avoid, and she challenges me to develop my own strengths. And then I did something I never thought I’d do. I prayed for her. I thanked God for putting her in my path and acknowledged there’s a reason she and I are in each other’s worlds. I felt sorry for her and asked God to help her, and I softened a little bit inside for her. Maybe there’s a chance we can both rise above this kind of thing. I won’t get my hopes too high, but at least I know that I can take the high road, even if she never does.

Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.”
Roger Crawford

Regrouping

I slept in today and it felt SO good! All week long, I looked forward to this three-day weekend. Lucy and I were still up early enough to go for a good long neighborhood walk, and we got it in just in time to enjoy what looks to have been the sunshine’s limited presence for the day. We listened to birds singing along the way, and Lucy spent much time plowing her nose through white, puffy dandelion heads in the grasses along the walking path. No amount of sneezing could convince her to stop. She made me laugh and the whole trek gave me a chance to clear my head some.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I blame it on too much togetherness. This move my parents are making, from their house of twenty-six years to a single-level town house, is going to be the death of me. (Not really, but I frequently say so just because somehow it makes me feel better to voice a little self-pity.) I know everyone’s got some level of dysfunction in their family. It’s normal. It’s probably designed to make sure the kids don’t get so comfortable at home that they never move out of their parents’ house.

I dearly love my parents. They have done so many things well in their lives. They raised their kids to be responsible and productive people. We take good care of our own families and we’ve got strong work ethics. They made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we would have good lives. They raised us with love and taught us to have faith in God. They did something right enough that, in spite of the fact that we sometimes drive each other nuts, we still have a need to pull together and be a family. They did things in a way that, as a kid, often made me think, I’ll never do that to my kids. But I see now that they did things the way their generation believed to be best.

My parents are always so happy to see me when I stop by and Mom never fails to express her thanks for anything I do to help them out. Dad seems to expect things, but Mom is appreciative enough for both of them. I am grateful for that. But as often as I’ve spent time with my parents over the past month or so, I’m frequently reminded why I was so ready to become an adult and move out. My dad? He is NEVER wrong. Even when he is most certainly wrong. And he’ll go to great lengths to tell you why he’s not wrong and you are. It’s always been that way. One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe my dad, is stubborn. Opinionated comes in a close second. And I think that stubborn quality in him has gained energy with age.

Growing up, if Dad decided we’d done something wrong, we kids knew we were in for one of his famously long and painful lectures. He’d sit in his chair at the head of the kitchen table while I stood at the far end of the kitchen, wishing I had the guts to just turn and walk out the back door. There were no excuses accepted for bad behavior. No amount of explanation would be considered, even if there was another side to the story Dad hadn’t considered (and likely wouldn’t). And everything he had to say was sure to be repeated at least three times. I was kind of a rebel back then. I’d often play with fire, my body language clearly shouting that I was listening only because I had to and I’d rather be anywhere but standing in front of him. I’d say, You said that already or I heard you the first two times. Dad did not appreciate my sass and I think it only prompted him to continue expressing his disappointment in me even longer. His delivery was heavy on a who-do-you-think-you are sort of sentiment. There was a lot of you’d-better-change-your-ways and very little help-me-understand-why. If you were on the receiving end of one of dad’s lectures, when you were finally free to depart his scrutiny, you felt about this big. (My thumb and forefinger are making a pinchy motion, in case you were wondering.)

I know my dad doesn’t mean to alienate others with his opinions. I just think he’s done things this way for so long that he doesn’t know how to do them any differently. It pains me to watch him instigate arguments with my mom. So often, they’re over silly, inconsequential things. I know he’s fighting for what he believes is right, but his words, to me, feel belittling, even when I’m only watching him engage with someone else. I rarely argue with my dad these days. I don’t have the energy. There’s no winning or compromise with him. And according to Mom, I’m not allowed to speak in defense of her either because it only makes Dad feel that his kids are choosing sides. And he thinks we only ever choose Mom’s side. I guess I usually do, because regardless of who I may think is right or wrong, it’s his tactics that don’t sit well with me. And ultimately, I just hate to be witness to so much unhappiness between my parents. At their age, I just want them to have peace and contentment. I know that quite possibly, my parents have just settled into a long-standing set of behaviors and this doesn’t make them nearly as uncomfortable as it does me. I’m the first to admit that I hate conflict. But it eats away at me that in their twilight years, they don’t seem as happy as I think they should be with one another.

It’s probably wrong on so many levels to put this in writing, but writing it is the best way I know how to purge the kind of weight this puts on my heart. Besides, I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t 99.9% confident that anyone who cares won’t ever read this.

Anyway, I can easily walk away when I need to and stay away for as long as I need. These days, I can control whether or not I end up on the receiving end of one of Dad’s diatribes, so when he’s being unreasonably opinionated, I usually hide a little roll of my eyes and just keep my mouth shut. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can say nothing and choose not to accept his position. Although, a few weeks ago, I thought I made a big statement while walking out without saying goodbye while he was busy once again telling Mom how poorly she had met some need he had. I felt really bad for the rest of the day about the fact that I’d probably made both of them feel really bad. Turns out that no one actually noticed I’d made a big statement and walked out.

A part of me knows that Dad’s behavior is probably due to the fact that he feels less needed, and less respected due to his age and the health issues he’s endured over the years. His vision has diminished enough that he can no longer drive. He is forced to be dependent on others for so many things he’d rather do himself. Maybe he’s trying to find some way to feel less diminished. I know he doesn’t know how hurtful he sometimes makes his family feel when a healthy debate is never allowed. Still, sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to speak up.

My sister was on the receiving end of Dad’s opposition recently. It was over a matter of fact, and the reality is, she was right and she had a point that he might have considered. And even though it was a helpful point that could have made a particular situation so much easier for him and Mom, he wouldn’t consider it because he simply didn’t believe it to be true. He is the father and we are still the children, even though we’re all in our forties and beyond. My dad still seems to think that he can treat his kids the same way he did when he was in charge of our upbringing. If he doesn’t agree with what you have to say, he will put you in your place. And my mom still seems to believe that as difficult as my dad can be at times, it’s best to just let him have his say and let it go.

It’s hard to watch sometimes. I wonder if my dad has been allowed to be right for so long that it’s now impossible to get him to understand that his behavior feels spiteful, arrogant and demeaning. I wonder if he feels good when all is said and done, and he gets to be right again, but someone else just feels like a turd.

Maybe I’m letting this eat away at me way too much. A voice in my head sometimes tells me to just let it go, that I should find a way to rise above it and feel less resentful, else I’ll suffer enormous regret when he’s no longer around. My dad is seventy-four years old and he finds a million ways to let me know he loves me. But he has no idea how bad it feels to watch him put a family member in their place when he’s feeling particularly obstinate.

All normal stuff, I know, in the grand scheme of things. And I remind myself frequently that the knee-jerk resentment I sometimes feel about dealing with my parents? I desperately never want my kids to feel those things about me. So while I know I need to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, and maybe find ways to gently steer my dad in a better direction, it’s hard. We’ve just never practiced healthy communication. It doesn’t come naturally. As much as I’ve learned over the years about how to do it better, it’s still such a challenge to put it into practice in the heat of the moment. But I also recognize that I can – and should – be learning from all of this. I sometimes see myself doing, saying or thinking in such a way that confirms the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I don’t have big plans this holiday weekend. Not going up north with the masses or anything. Mark is working all weekend, and other members of his family will fill the cabin at the lake to beyond capacity. I’ve got no desire to squeeze in among them. I’ve got a couple of fun outings planned, but for the most part, I’ll stick close to home where it’s going to be quiet and I can catch up on things. I may voluntarily go do some more packing at Mom and Dad’s, but I’m hoping the phone doesn’t ring, beckoning me to come when I may not be ready. I hope this weekend provides a breather and a chance to regroup. I was in such a good mental place just a few short weeks ago. I need to get back there.

Car Wash

“Come on,” Mark said to me yesterday afternoon.

“Where we goin’?”

“The Downtowner,” he said.

“Ugh. Really? We have so much to do and it’ll be a zoo there. It’s beautiful outside. Everyone and their brother we’ll be waiting in line for a car wash.”

“Actually,” he said “I’m betting it won’t be crowded because it’s so nice outside. Who wants to wait in the car wash line when it’s such a perfect day?”

Turns out we were both half right, but the wait wasn’t bad. The Downtowner is one of those pro-style car washes where an entire crew of people works together to make your car spic and span. Mark gives the Downtowner his business quite frequently. Me? I never go there. It’s in the old neighborhood in St. Paul, too far out of my way, and I never feel as if I have time for that kind of car luxury. I take my car through the drive-thru wash at the gas station a few times a month. Lucky for me, half of Mark’s trips to the Downtowner are with my car.

I’ve driven past the Downtowner a hundred times in recent years, but I can’t remember ever being inside. It was kind of fascinating to watch the car wash process. There are a couple of workers right up front to spray off the wheels before each car enters the wash tunnel. Inside, there was a full convenience store and plenty of room for customers to sit as they wait for their cars to be finished. I sat on a stool watching through the windows as cars moved through the wash. Mark pointed out the squirt guns, where kids could sit inside and aim streams of water at the passing cars on the other side. I noticed the shoe-shine station at the back of the waiting area. It had two seats positioned high up, just like I’ve seen in the movies.

“Have you ever seen anyone working at the shoe-shine area?” I asked Mark.

“Yeah, once in a while.”

“How many people even wear shoes that require shining these days?” I wondered. Although, as soon as I asked it, I guessed being as close to downtown as we were, I could see how someone might make a go of their shoe-shine business there.

As the cars exited the wash tunnel, another crew of workers moved each vehicle to one of several finishing bays. They worked furiously to dry and shine each car, inside and out. Above each bay, there was a sign that would light up to let the owner know that his or her car is done. Mark led me out into Bay 3 as a crew of four people put the finishing touches on my car. It looked gorgeous!

Mark got in the driver’s seat and I took the passenger side. Before I could sit, I had to move a Sunday paper out of my way.

“Why’d you bring the paper with?” I asked.

“I didn’t.”

“Then where’d this come from?”

“They give it to you. It’s all part of the service. And you get this too,” he said, pointing to a card that had been tucked into one of the cup holders. It was a guarantee. If it rained anytime that day, I could come back the next day for a free wash.

My car looked and smelled fabulous. I can now see why Mark is such a fan of this place. Their customer service is beyond over-the-top. My Terrain sparkled in the bright, Sunday afternoon sun as we drove home and I couldn’t help but admire it. Back at home, Mark parked it in the garage, and when we went to the grocery store he said, “It’s supposed to rain. Let’s keep your car clean and take my truck.”

Good thing too! Because I didn’t think I had time to take it back for another wash, as fun as the first time around had been. And just as we were driving home from the grocery store, big drops of rain began to splatter the windshield of the truck. By the time we’d hauled all the bags of food into the house, the skies let loose.

So I didn’t have to use my next-day guarantee. And today was another beautiful, sunny, warm day. As I approached my car after work today, I thought about how lucky I am to have a car, to have this particular car. I’ve been very happy with it and hope to have it for a lot of years to come. And I appreciated the opportunity to see it sitting there waiting for me, the paint all sparkling black and glimmering in the sun. I took a good look at it and reminded myself to enjoy it in all it’s glory, because for the rest of the week? Rain!

Oh well. I guess we need it!

This Weekend

2015-05-03What a beautiful weekend it’s been! Sunshine. Temperatures in the eighties. The air sweet with the scent of flowering trees. Windows open. Birds singing. A late Sunday afternoon thunderstorm that left a rainbow behind. Spring is here, and I for one, am happy!

The weekend has been full. I started it off by picking up my new glasses yesterday. I had my vision checked a few weeks ago after noticing that my eyes frequently feel tired and achy at the end of my work days. The doctor confirmed that my eyes were behaving pretty normally … for a person of my age, *ahem* … and that it made sense to get some corrective lenses. He prescribed something suitable for long hours in front of dual computer monitors.

I was pretty excited to be getting something more accommodating for my eyes than the cheap, drugstore readers I’ve been using. When I came home with the real glasses, I asked Jake what he thought.

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Urkel called,” he said. “He wants his glasses back.”

I was momentarily offended, but I had to give it to him. That was a good one! Almost like he’d been rehearsing it or something! I wasn’t really all that offended anyway. I like my new frames and I don’t normally take fashion advice from my son. So why start now? Besides, what’s really important is that I can see!

Lucy Pie seemed to enjoy the weekend weather as much as her people did. Mark let her hang around with him while he cleaned out the garage yesterday and at one point after putting her back in the house, she managed to let herself out again to go visit a neighbor dog. Einstein was walking down the street in front of our house with his people when Lucy caught sight of him. The main door to the house had been left open, with only a screen door to serve as a barrier, and it was all too easy for Lucy to push through it. Luckily, Einstein’s dad caught Lucy by her collar until I could catch up to her and take her from him. We now know better than to trust the screen door. Lucy got a good scolding and seemed remorseful, so all is now forgiven.

Hey! Remember the Chickadee family that was making their home in the birdhouse on our deck? As of this morning, they’re gone. :-( The carnage was all over the deck, remnants of a nest and broken eggs. Mark thinks the sparrows are to blame.

Last night, Mark and I attended the season-end banquet for our Saturday bowling league. It was held at a locally famous steak house. The food was good, I got re-elected as league vice president, and earned a pin for my high game of 246. All in all, an evening well spent.

Today I was back at my parents’ house, doing a few more chores in preparation for getting their home on the market. They are busy searching for a single level townhouse in the near vicinity. I’m happy they are planning to stay close by my sister and me, but I still wish they’d agree to consider a less independent style of living. For now, they’re not, although this is a step in the right direction.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve cleaned, organized, purged and donated some of the things they’ve accumulated during their years of married life. And while they whittle down their belongings to those which are truly necessary, I’m busy adding stuff to my own house, which is counterproductive to my usual purpose! There are just some things I can’t bear to see let go. I’m now the proud owner of a deep, heavy frying pan with a domed lid. It’s old and it looks it. But they don’t make ’em like that anymore and I know I’ll use it. And? It was my grandpa’s once upon a time, so I’m keeping it.

2015-05-02bI also came into possession of this thing, which was destined for the Goodwill because even though it had been in my parents’ kitchen utensil drawer for years, it had never been used and no one knew what it was. All my mom knew was that it also had come from my grandparents’ kitchen. My curiosity got the best of me. Before tossing it into the Goodwill bag, I posted it on FaceB00k to see if anyone could identify it. I’ve since learned that it’s either a cake slicer, cheese slicer, or cake decorating comb. I can’t understand how this thing slices anything, so I’m going with decorating tool. Also? It’s antique. So I’m keeping it. And if I manage to actually decorate a cake with this thing, you’ll be the first to know.

Don’t hold your breath!

Chickadee

Mark is a pretty talented handyman, and I can always rely on him to know the best way to manage anything that needs fixing around the house and yard. He prides himself on his ability to do quality work, and rightfully so. When friends or family need help with a project, they often call on him.

Every once in a great while, Mark uses his craftsman abilities for fun. There are several birdhouses in the backyard as proof. There are two bluebird houses on the east side of our yard, mounted on the chain link fence. Although, they’ve at times been home to families of bluebirds, the sparrows like them too. This frustrates Mark, but I think that if the sparrows like them, why not let them be?

Last year, he built a couple of smallish bird houses. Kacey thought it would be fun to paint one. Mark thought this was strange.

“Why would you paint a birdhouse?” He asked.

Kacey and I laughed. “What’s strange about it?”

“Birdhouses just shouldn’t be painted,” he said. I don’t know where he gets his ideas sometimes. I argued that colorful birdhouses are artsy and fun. I don’t think my argument won him over, but he ultimately gave in and told Kacey to have at it. So she rounded up some paint and went to work, creating a miniature barn for birds. When it was finished, she asked Mark to mount it somewhere in the yard. It might have gone in the big pine tree, or on the back wooden fence, but moving it to an appealing location for birds is not something that ever got done last summer.

And so the little birdhouse sat on the deck, on a shelf in the corner of the canopy’s frame. And being in such close proximity to humans and a very energetic dog, I imagine the birds just weren’t interested. The birdhouse remained empty and became patio decor. When we retrieved our patio furniture from the shed a few weeks ago, Kacey found the birdhouse and returned it to its position on the shelf. A shame, I thought. Maybe this year we’ll find a more suitable location for it.

2015-04-23One morning this week, while making my lunch before going to work, Mark told me to have a look out on the deck. Imagine my surprise when I saw a little chickadee getting comfortable with our “strange” barn-birdhouse so near to our people-house.

When I woke up this morning, I fed Lucy, then plunked a coffee mug under the Keurig and fetched the hazelnut creamer from the fridge. While waiting for my coffee to finish brewing, I stood in front of the patio door, looking absently out into the neighborhood. I stretched my arms up over my head and yawned, and just as I finished, noticed our bird friend perched on a patio chair just across from me on the other side of the glass. It had a beak full of dried grass and didn’t seem the least alarmed at the sight of me. In one quick motion, it hopped from the chair and flew the short distance to the bird-barn, disappearing inside. Looks like moving the birdhouse to a more suitable location is not necessary for now.

I realized that the bird was my simple pleasure this morning. While the world went on around us last week, it held its usual share of ups and downs. And I am grateful that my ups and downs are manageable enough at the moment to allow a spontaneous smile at the presence of such a tiny and common creature. 2015-04-25

Overcomers

Growing up, my family attended mass every weekend. My parents were then, as they remain today, very active in their church. Faith and God were their highest priorities. And they attempted to instill the same values in their children by requiring weekly attendance at mass and encouraging our involvement wherever there were opportunities. They accomplished their goals with varying success, but no one can accuse them of not giving it their all!

Having always been an extremely shy child, I refused to do anything that would make me the center of attention at church. My brothers were altar boys for a few years. My sister, being the oldest and more cooperative offspring, became a lector in her teenage years. I’d watch her walk up on the altar, stand in front of the lectern and recite the weekly readings as I marveled at her confidence. At some point, my dad tried to coerce me volunteer in the same capacity. In words that were slightly more acceptable coming from my youthful mouth to my stern dad’s ears, I basically informed him it would be a cold day in hell.

He couldn’t make me stand up in front of the church and read from the Bible, but he could force my involvement in other ways. The Catholic mass holds much opportunity for communal prayer and response. As I sat in the hard pew amongst my parents and siblings, Dad would silently assert his authority by reaching for a missalette in front of me and placing it in my hands. There was no question what was required of me. Participate. I know Dad hoped for enthusiasm as well, but he’d take what he could get.

I would recite the prayers and respond according to the routine and flow of the mass. Singing, though. That was another story. Those church hymns were so ancient and boring. And the notes were often too high for me. And we Catholics weren’t as openly spiritual as some other faiths. There was no dancing in the aisles, no raising of the hands in praise, no spontaneous shouts of “AMEN!” or “Halleluja!” And as I recall, not a lot of loud singing from the pews. Mr. Teeters always lead us in song at Saturday mass while Mrs. Mrozinski accompanied him on the big church organ. On the rare occasions we went to Sunday mass, there was a choir with a handful of members. And for those of us in the congregation who didn’t sing with confidence, there was no hope of being drowned out among a sea of other voices. There were always a few voices that rose above the others, some in tune, some not. More power to them, I thought. Not me.

I was already a self-conscious teenager. I wasn’t about to add my voice to the few who could be heard. I mouthed the words to the songs. This did not escape Dad’s attention. On more than one occasion, I stood in the kitchen at home after mass, at the other end of one of Dad’s famous lectures. The scene was always the same. Dad insisting that next time, he’d better hear me singing. Me standing stubbornly, angry, refusing. He couldn’t make me sing, I’d say. He’d find a microphone and hold it up to my mouth if I didn’t start, he’d reply in anger.

These stand-offs with Dad only made me feel worse and the poor quality of my voice only magnified in my mind. I knew I was a terrible singer and Dad couldn’t make me sing at church.

Around those same years, I started high school. Somehow I fell in with a group of kids who were involved in theater. I worked as part of the stage crew on many productions and watched in admiration from the wings as my high school friends stood confidently on stage performing. Musical productions were fun and full of energy. And each one needed a bigger cast of performers than the non-musical plays. The star performers could really sing, but they needed a supporting choir for the many musical numbers. Somehow, someone convinced me to try out. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m sure there was something to the fact that one of my peers expressed belief in my ability to sing. My friends carried a lot more weight than my dad at that time. I began to believe I could do it.

With shaking legs and frayed nerves, I found myself up on stage during tryouts and somehow forced myself to sing … in a manner in which everyone could hear me. I was mortified inside, but I think I shut my eyes and just made myself keep going. I hated the sound of my voice, but I carried the tune until finally it was over. A boy I knew from the school bus stop patted me on the back and said, “You did great!” I didn’t believe him, but I now felt as if I’d taken a few steps toward conquering the feeling of self-consciousness that constantly floated around inside of me. I figured it could only get easier from here.

And when the cast list was posted, I saw my name on it! I’d never been so elated in my whole young life!

But when I informed my parents at home that evening of my accomplishment, my pride was crushed. There were many reasons given. None of them seemed fair at the time, but the bottom line was that I would not be performing in the musical. And mostly what I remember from that conversation was, “If you can’t sing in church, how do you think you’re going to sing on a stage in front of an auditorium full of people anyway?”

It didn’t matter that I thought I could do it because I’d be surrounded by friends who would also be singing, loudly, in front of an auditorium full of people. It didn’t matter that this tiny, little part in the school musical might help me grow a little bit and take a few small steps toward overcoming my fears. The conversation was over. I was told to inform the theater director the next day that I would be dropping out of the cast. I never thought I was a good singer. Never had hopes of being great. I just wanted to be part of something at school and this was one way I could do that. But it wasn’t going to happen. I think that was the end of my involvement in the theater group. I was embarrassed at having made a cast only to have to quit the next day. And there also ended any thought that I could be confident enough to put myself out there in front of others, in any way.

That lack of confidence continued to stay with me to some degree for the rest of my life. Of course, I grew up and learned in many ways that if I put my mind to it, I could probably do it. But I never got over that fear of singing in front of others. In all of my church-going years, I quietly refrained from singing. Didn’t sing to my kids unless it was in silliness. My cars have been the only ones to ever hear me belt it out.

2014-10-11bBut I have this sister, and her husband who’s in a bunch of bands. And they love to go out and sing karaoke. And I love to go out with them. And I’ve sung – but always with others. Always letting someone else take the lead. Always holding the microphone a ways away from my mouth. Always embarrassed, though I’ve learned that most people go out to sing karaoke because if they were good enough to be in bands, they’d be doing it there instead. And some people sing well at karaoke, but most people don’t. And no one cares because it just feels good to sing. And usually everyone has at least a good buzz going on anyway. I mean, look at this guy dancing! He didn’t care what anyone else was thinking. He was just living it up!

And so there we were again last night at the karaoke bar, my brother-in-law, my sister and me. My sister suffers a similar feeling of trepidation about getting up there and singing, maybe not quite as much as me, but still. A few people who were there the last time were there again. And they came over and told us all that they remembered us from two weeks ago – mostly because my brother-in-law and his band mates made a pretty good impression then. But they told us all they were glad we were back and hoped we’d all sing again.

My sister and I made a pact. We said we were going to do it. Not as a pair, not hiding behind each other. We were each going to go up there and just sing. Alone. Not because we think we’re fabulous singers. We’re not. But we can carry a tune and it just feels good to sing. And because as many years as have passed, we’re each still letting this feeling of self-consciousness hold us back to some degree.

There was no big challenge to the songs I sang, but I did it! My sister did too! People hooted and cheered and clapped. And my brother-in-law at one point said, “Nice job!” And we knocked knuckles. And I think he summed it up so well when he mused that people just want to do the things they enjoy doing and have someone encourage them for having done it. So simple, but so right.

And you know what? I’m still not going out and singing to the world, but I did sing in front of a bunch of people I don’t know and it was fun. It felt good. And next? Who knows? Maybe I’ll tell everyone I know that I’ve been writing a blog on the internet for the past eight years!

But probably not just yet. :-)