I’m Happy Today Because …

Jack doesn’t have Covid. He sounds awful. He’s been coughing, sneezing, and sniffling with increasing intensity the past few days, and has lost his voice. He got tested. So did I. We are both vaccinated and boosted, but the thought of him getting the virus still worries me, especially because he’s immunocompromised. When he had it last spring, mid-vaccination series, he was so sick I was literally scared. Thankfully, both of our tests yesterday came back negative.

I went back to work today. I’ve had a lot of time off over the past two weeks. My PTO balance in December held more hours than I’d be allowed to carry over into 2022 and so I scheduled some days off. Being on vacation over the holidays is wonderful. But for me, it can tend to become too much of a good thing. I get lax in my eating habits and sleep much longer than my body is used to. I need some routine to stay on top of healthy habits and personal goals. Fortunately, I love my job. My peers all seemed to have some positive energy upon returning after the long holiday weekend and so it was really easy to get back into the swing of things.

I’m cooking. It’s not something I mind doing, but I tend to burn out on it easily, especially when work and life get really busy. We seem to have survived on holiday leftovers and goodies for the past two weeks. I’ve begun to crave a hot, (not simply reheated) meal and actually had the urge to do some cooking. I grilled steaks on Saturday, made my grandma’s spaghetti yesterday, and an Instant Pot split pea soup tonight. And now we have some appealing leftovers too!

I know the thrill of cooking is going to wear off though, so I’m also happy we’re trying a meal delivery service. Thanks to Chesney and Farm Boy’s thoughtful Christmas gift, later this week, the ingredients for three meals will show up at the door. All we’ll have to do is follow the instructions to prepare a meal. I have high hopes!

Therapy Cows

I am so grateful that it’s Friday. For a short week, it sure felt endless. I had problems all week-long with the system where I do most of my work. I kept receiving errors and subsequently reporting them to the System Admin. I told the S.A. multiple times that I suspected the system generated alerts, which inform me that something is waiting in my queue, were not working. Since the S.A. has been making some changes to the layout and workflows in the system, he kept brushing off my concerns, even going so far as to suggest I might be accidentally deleting my alerts without acting on them. Things have been really busy. I was probably just overwhelmed, he said. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll run a report for you so you can see what’s outstanding,” he said.

The report was long, but I began to research each item and address it as best I could. The problem was, as much as I worked through the report, more things inevitably fell into my queue. I could not seem to keep track of my responsibilities in the system and couldn’t figure out why I was having such a hard time with a process at which I am an expert. I honestly reached the point of wondering if I was losing it. And then this afternoon, lo and behold, the S.A. sent an email marked high importance. It said that he had discovered the system was not sending alerts and therefore everyone should refrain from completing any tasks until the software provider could be consulted.

I felt vindicated. And also annoyed. When I asked how long the alerts had been out of commission, my suspicions were confirmed. Since last Friday! I know he didn’t really mean to completely disregard my concerns, but sometimes the S.A. is very confident in what he believes and sometimes I allow myself to back down too easily. But when I thought about the long hours I’d worked this week trying to get things under control … when I thought about how much I’d doubted my own capabilities the past few days, I was beyond frustrated!

I needed to blow off some steam in a productive way, so I decided to take a walk. The outside temperature was twelve degrees but I did not let that stop me. The sun shone in a clear, blue sky and I wanted to put some distance between myself and any device that would require me to interact with other humans. I pulled snow pants on over my leggings, slid my arms into a long, warm jacket, and headed out the door toward the walking path.

The asphalt was a bit icy and slick, and I had to walk carefully, but it felt good to breathe fresh, cold air into my lungs. The cows were outside up the street. They leaned curiously in my direction as I approached. When I reached their fence, I stopped to talk to them. I couldn’t help myself. They’re cute, and my dog-loving instincts always kick in when I see them. I stayed on the path and called over, “Hi babies,” in my dog-loving voice, and then they posed for a nice photo. And I felt a bit better.


I was able to return to work for the rest of the afternoon with a renewed sense of calm. As it turns out, cows are pretty good therapy. I wonder if it’s too late to consider a career in farming?

Blissfully Peaceful

I didn’t sleep well last night for no particularly apparent reason. I was awake this morning long before the alarm went off.

I work out each morning before I start the rest of my day. The physical activity gives both my body and mind a boost and helps me feel more prepared to face whatever may lie ahead. And if I get up on time, I might also have a few minutes to spare after a workout to meditate before the day’s demands start piling up.

I started exploring meditation in the past couple of years with the help of some free apps. I quickly found that it can help alleviate a general sense of anxiety that I seem to hold onto. My boss is extremely invested in wellness and self-care of all sorts. She’s big into yoga and encourages us to schedule daily breaks from work to go outside for a run or walk, or to meditate. So I considered myself very fortunate when she spent part of the department’s budget on HeadSpace subscriptions for the entire team. I use it often. I’m not consistently good at it, but I’ve found a sense of calm through these meditations frequently enough to want to keep working on it.

In spite of my lack of sleep, I didn’t feel fatigued or out-of-sorts this morning. It probably helped that today’s workout wasn’t so much a workout as a recovery routine, a yoga-inspired series of flowing and stretching. It helped me unwind and put me in a good frame of mind. I had plenty of time afterwards before I had to feed Lucy and then take a shower, so I pulled up my HeadSpace app and selected the day’s featured meditation.

Unlike so many other times, today I didn’t have to fight the constant interruption of thoughts or remind my muscles to relax as I tried to meditate. My eyes closed easily and my lungs filled slowly and deeply with each breath. Finally, a deep calm settled over me along with a sense of floating on clouds. It was blissfully peaceful, almost a high. I wanted to stay there forever, but of course, I couldn’t. Still, I realized how wonderful it was, even if only for a short time, to let go of the need to leap from one thought to the next, the constant list-making, and the compounding of expectations that so often occurs in my brain. All I felt was a deep sense of quiet and peace.

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This was the first thing for which I was grateful today. If nothing else went well, at least I had this.

Check Check

It’s nearly the middle of July and summer is passing by too quickly, as it always does. My weeks are busier than they’ve been in a long time. I keep reminding myself to stay grounded inside of each day; to enjoy the hours, the minutes, the moments, instead of always keeping an eye on the weeks and months ahead. It’s a habit I’m not sure I’ll ever really master. If I could, maybe time would slow down a little bit.

I haven’t been here in a really long time. I keep telling myself I’m too busy, too tired to write. How is it that I’ve reached middle-age and somehow it feels that I have less time and energy than ever before in my life? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s mainly a matter of perspective, one that I would like to change.

I’ve been bringing work home with me, both literally and figuratively. When I accepted a new position last September, I brought with me many of the responsibilities of my former job. I imagined this new job to be the answer to my prayers, one that would pull me out of a place of extreme limitation, away from a bad boss, and expand my growth opportunities. Oh, it did! In this new role, there is more work to do than I know how to get done. There doesn’t seem to be anything they don’t think I can do, and they throw it all at me. I mainly report to one manager, and have a “dotted line” to another. And I frequently continue to be the subject matter expert about things for which I’m no longer responsible. (I’ve always had a hard time saying no and I think I’m always still trying to prove myself.)  My main boss constantly thanks me for the work I do. She frequently tells me I’m awesome and do amazing work. And yet something about the whole situation keeps me feeling that I’m falling short. On my last trip to the home office, I said to my boss, “I can’t wait until everything feels like old hat.” Without skipping a beat, she replied, “Never gonna happen.”

And that right there explains my problem. I’m working through every storm thinking there’s calm up ahead, except I work in a department where the norm is high stress and curve balls. I gravitate toward anything with rhyme and reason. I thrive on routine. But there’s no black and white in this place, only gray.

But maybe the biggest issue is a feeling of isolation. I’m the remote employee. This is a first for me, and for the department. They’re not used to accommodating someone who isn’t physically there and we are still working through some of those hurdles. And I underestimated how much I being around people fuels me. I mean, I have people around me in my office. They’re just not my people. I can go entire days in my little corner of the office, buried in my own work, and not have a single in-person interaction. Too many days like that leave me feeling suffocated and drained.

LinkedIn suggested a job opportunity for me the other day, one that suited my skills and personality very well. I seriously contemplated it. And then I realized that it might not be so much that the job really appealed to me as I was looking for an out. And when I really thought about it, I actually like the work I’m doing. There’s just so much of it. It’s hard to ever get really focused on any one thing before something else is banging at my door. And I let myself get frantic in my head about failing to conquer it all when the reality is that no one else expects me to. It hasn’t even been a whole year, and I need to give myself time to reach a better place where I’m at.

On the plus side, I’ve got opportunities to help me disentangle from it all. After my bowling season ended last April, I started right up again in a summer league. And I allowed myself to be talked into a golf league as well! For someone who’s a homebody at heart, it’s a lot to have two regular commitments every week! On a side note … GOLF! I always thought it was a boring game, but I kind of love it. Overall, I’m really bad at it, but when you break it down, there are things I’m doing really well. So maybe someday I’ll start putting it all together and actually play decently. Anyway, this is just a fun league and none of my team mates are too serious about it, so I’m really enjoying it.

Also, we’re making time to be at the family cabin this summer. For years, we’ve been lucky to manage one weekend out of the summer there, but this summer we’ve gone three times already. This was my father-in-law’s happy place and he left it for his kids and grandchildren. It’s an old, rustic place. It’s small, and the entire kitchen sags just a bit lower than the rest of the place. But we love it. There are almost always other members of the extended family there, and I love the communal meals, fishing off the dock together, and the gorgeous sunsets that sink down over the lake at the end of a day. And after dark, there’s always bonfires and s’mores. I love the way that when I’m there, I can lose myself in a book for hours on end without guilt that I should be doing something else.

Where was I going with all this? I think I just needed a reminder of how blessed I am. The other day it occurred to me that I’d been waking up each summer day feeling weighed down by something that feels like the winter blues. This time of year is usually my happy place, but I haven’t been feeling it like I normally do. When I really stopped to think about it, I realized that I’ve been so busy … working … playing … keeping up with responsibilities both at work and at home. There was no space left inside to stop for a moment and reflect, slow down, and appreciate anything. This is just me putting myself in check. I’ll try to make this a more frequent habit.

This is a reminder to myself to never stop embracing change

This blog site has been calling to me lately. I once couldn’t imagine  a time when I didn’t stop to write something at least a few times a week. Now months go by.  I guess once I really fell out of the habit, it just kept getting easier to let it be the thing for which I simply couldn’t find the time.

I’ve had a nagging thought lately that there are a very few things that I do just for myself, just because I really enjoy them, and just because they fuel me. Writing is one of those things. And it hasn’t escaped me how ridiculous it is that I have let go of it the way I have.

So … this is me, attempting to hold myself more accountable by putting in writing that I want to do more writing.

Moving on.

I just finished my fourth week in a new position at work. It was a fantastic opportunity and I have no doubt it was absolutely the right move for me. This job is an extension of what I was already doing, and opens a lot of new doors. The people in my new department actively recruited me and have completely rolled out the red carpet, constantly reminding me how happy they are that I have joined their team. “Thrilled” is the word they keep using, and I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am, and how fortunate I feel to have been given this chance. I’ve realized over the past few years that I simply like to work. I recognize that for most of my earlier years, I didn’t believe in my own potential, but once I got a taste of it, I began to truly appreciate having the chance to contribute to something meaningful, grow my skills, and keep feeding my mind. It hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve been extremely fortunate to work in a place and with people who continue to help make this a daily reality.

I was very content with, not to mention confident in the work I was doing in my previous position, although I worked for a manager who created an atmosphere that felt much like being in kindergarten. To be fair, she allowed me a lot more breathing room than most – probably because she had little expertise in the work I was doing. So leaving me be was surely preferable to admitting her lack of knowledge. But I existed in her world every day, witnessing her micromanagement of the rest of the team, her inflated ego, and her utter lack of respect for the other very capable, intelligent adults under her direction. I have had good managers over the years, ones who know that empowering their employees is the secret to success. This one didn’t grasp that concept. Every day, I felt my coworkers’ discontent, listened to their frustrations, and was powerless to help. It was a toxic environment. And while I recognize that my old manager’s ways are likely rooted in her own insecurities, I, like many others before me, leapt at the chance to escape.

I’m still getting my feet wet in the new job. The department I’ve joined isn’t new, but recently reorganized, so I’m relieved to be coming in at a time when things are new and different for the whole team, not just me. One of my main responsibilities will be working in and helping steer the direction of a new system. Plus I’ll get to continue doing some of the work I most enjoyed in my previous position. I can work from home anytime I want, during any set of hours that suits me best. If I need to take time away for family or personal needs, I have all the freedom in the world. Because this is the polar opposite of my prior work environment, it almost seems too good to be true. But it is most certainly true.

So why have I felt so anxious lately? I haven’t been sleeping. I haven’t been able to shut my mind off at night. A constant set of worries seems to be streaming through my mind and every little thing annoys me. I’ve seriously begun to wonder if I’m not capable of being happy unless I’m experiencing some sort of discontent!

I should mention that I am now a “remote” employee. I have always worked in my company’s Minnesota office, but the rest of my new team is based in the home office in Wisconsin. This past week, I traveled to the home office to do some training and spend time with my new peers. It was my first solitary work-travel experience, my first time ever in the home office, and it all played out so much better than I could have hoped. I was able to make in-person connections, and work side-by-side with my new team mates for a few days. I can only describe the whole experience as one of being utterly and completely welcomed into the fold. I guess I have a certain set of expectations for what my work life should be, and am always pleasantly surprised when relationships there go deeper than work. And that’s exactly what happened. I found my new coworkers to be so genuine and warm. They are truly a caring group of people and I was amazed at how quickly we bonded and found things in common with one another. A million times this week I have marveled at how fortunate I am to have been awarded this position.

Now that I’m home from my first work trip, it’s become clear why I’ve felt so uncertain and worried lately. I’ve been with this company and/or its affiliates for thirteen years. I’ve survived several reorganizations and much change. But in the past, whenever I’ve moved into a new role, I’ve always continued doing what I know and do best, with a few new responsibilities and expectations. This time, I’ve taken a small bit of the familiar with me, while facing a vast amount of new and uncertain experiences and expectations.

No wonder I’ve been such a wreck! An old habit of not believing in myself has reared its ugly head. Oh how I wish I could be one of those people who charges into every new life experience with confidence and certainty! That’s just never been me. I’ve always required my experiences to prove to that they’re not so scary before I embrace them.

Thankfully, I’m now able to see that the past month has been a journey … one that I’ve had to travel in order to see that no matter how old I get, there’s always room to continue growing and learning. The past week has allowed me to prove that I can go to an unfamiliar city, find my way around, present myself as an intelligent and capable person, and start to succeed in a new role. More importantly, I’ve learned how important it is to actually believe that I can succeed rather than feed my self-doubts. I’m glad to be reminded that change can be a good thing, and that turning new corners is vital to keeping life from growing stagnant. And the past two nights, I’ve slept like a baby!

Never too old

My time away provided several team-building opportunities with my new department. Most revolved around lunches and dinners, but the best one was a yoga/mindfulness/meditation class. I was a bit skeptical and self-conscious at first, but tried not to let it show. I didn’t want to be the newbie who resisted anything different. And not surprisingly, the class proved to be an amazing experience … and much to my benefit, focused on dealing with stress and anxiety.

One thing I learned specifically from this class is the importance of self-care – those things we do for ourselves to keep us operating at our best so that we can be our best selves for those around us. Hence why I’m writing today, and hence (hopefully) more often from now on. Here’s to never standing still in one place for too long!

Meeting the Pen Pals

Since early this year, through a volunteer opportunity offered by my employer, I’ve been exchanging letters with two boys who attend a local elementary school. I signed up for the program because I wanted to volunteer in some capacity, but couldn’t imagine much that I could do between working full time and taking care of my mom. Then along came this program, and I instantly knew it was something I not only could manage, but wanted to do. The time commitment was flexible. Once the school sent the notebooks to the office, I’d have a week to write a few paragraphs to each boy, whenever my schedule allowed. Plus – it involved writing. It was the perfect fit for me.

Darius, Theo and I have been passing a notebook back and forth for the past few months. I really lucked out with these two boys. They were very engaged and open with me, and I felt a sense of attachment right from the start. They made me laugh at times with the things they wrote. They proved they were typical grade school boys with their love of video games and all things Star Wars. Sometimes they pulled on my heartstrings, like when each told me they had siblings who did not live with them, and how that made them feel sad.

I began to really look forward to those days when my focus on some work project was suddenly interrupted by the familiar plop of the notebook landing on my desk as the program facilitator walked through the office passing them out to the volunteers. I couldn’t wait to read my letters from the boys. Sometimes the pages were filled with words and drawings. Other times, I could tell their interest had fizzled for the moment, or maybe they simply hadn’t had time to write much. Sometimes Theo would write on behalf of both Darius and himself. I often found myself seeking out my coworkers to share something the boys had written. I think my boss is sorry he didn’t get in on this program. I’m sure he will participate next year!

Theo often wrote to me about his dog, how Hades likes to chase (and eat) squirrels, and how he ruined most of his toys by chewing and tearing them apart. In another letter, he told me about his favorite book, Runt. His description of the story was so compelling that I’m determined to read it myself before long.

In one of his letters, Darius wrote, “There’s something I haven’t told you. I have a limb difference on my right hand and instead of 5 fingers, I have 5 little nubs and if somebody punches it, it won’t hurt and my hand packs a punch!”

When I replied, I thanked Darius for sharing that with me. I told him it sounded like his hand gave him a super power!

In one of their last messages, the boys again worked together to write to me. They got silly this time, with Theo describing how he had discovered that Darius doesn’t actually have a limb difference. It’s just that his hand is invisible. “I figured it out,” he wrote, “because he kept saying it is invisible. I pinch it, he screams, and look at the light and see glitter. YAY!” He then added, “And what did you do for spring break?”

So adorable, and imaginative, those boys!

At this point, we were warned that the program was winding down and it was time to start saying our goodbyes. I wanted to give “my” boys something special by which to remember our pen-pal friendship. So playing off the little story Theo had written to me about Darius’ invisible hand, I wrote them a story. (Four pages of handwritten story feels like a lot when the keyboard is my usual medium!)

In my story, I described how everyone thought that Theo and Darius were just your typical third-grade boys, but that they had a secret. Darius told everyone he had a limb-difference, but the secret was that it was really an invisible hand with special powers. If Theo pinched Darius’ special hand, it would make glitter rain down from above. The glitter had magic powers to make everyone forget what was happening at that moment, and to make any bad situation better.

I went on to describe how on one particular Monday, the boys’ teacher, Mrs. Sauerkraut announced there would be a surprise test on spiders, centipedes, worms and water beetles. The class was disappointed, but the two boys saved the day when they used their super power to make their teacher forget she had planned the test. After the glitter had showered down over the class, Mrs. Sauerkraut was confused and asked the class if they remembered what she had said they were supposed to do that day. The two boys told her she had just announced they were having a class party with video games, ice cream and dancing. The whole class shouted with joy!

I hoped the boys would like my story. I didn’t think they would be writing back to me again, but it turned out that they would write one last time. When my notebook arrived, I excitedly turned to their last entry.

“Dear Tee,” it said. “We are not in 3rd grade. We are in 4th.”

That was it. I was mildly disappointed. And confused. I had thought they were in 3rd grade. I paged through the letters and realized neither had ever confirmed this.

Yesterday was our year-end celebration. The other volunteers and I hopped on a bus and we all rode over to the elementary school to meet our kids. After donning our sticker guest passes which authorized us to be in the building, we all strode through the hallways to the classrooms where our kids were waiting. Lined up at the front of the room with the other volunteers, I faced a classroom full of young and eager faces. The kids were smiling, shouting hello, and trying, but failing to keep still as they waved at us with eager anticipation. I scanned the faces to see if I could pick out my boys when I heard my name called out. I followed the sound of the voice and saw a curly haired boy waving right at me. As soon as I saw the hand he was waving, I recognized Darius. Momentarily wondering how he knew it was me, I realized I had been holding our notebook against my chest. The front of the notebook where our names were written in large print, was facing the class. Darius had seen it and recognized me.

As soon as we were all paired with our kids, we each moved to separate places to do an art project and enjoy some ice cream. The first thing Darius did was show me the nubs on his hand. He twisted one around and when I asked if that didn’t hurt, Theo responded for him. “Nope! No bones!”

In our writings, Theo was clearly more engaged, but in person, it was Darius who spilled over with the most enthusiasm. Both boys chattered on comfortably with me, asking me to elaborate on things I’d told them in my letters. Theo frequently paged through the notebook, pointing out things we’d discussed. At one point, he mentioned, “We didn’t think you’d look like you do.”

“Oh yeah?” I laughed. “What did you think I would look like?”

“Darker hair,” they both nodded, but offered no reason they might think this. I could only smile. Ten year-olds are cute!

“Sorry I thought you were in third grade,” I said, referring to the story I had sent them. “They told us before we started writing to you that you were in third. Did you like my story anyway?”

“It was awesome!” they exclaimed. Theo added, “You should be a writer.”

(Thanks, Kiddo!)

These boys were not only cute and funny, they were smart! They told me about research projects they were working on, and showed me the work they’d done so far, including columns of notes, and colorful paintings. When I asked about favorite books they’d read, I didn’t recognize some of the titles. Trying to think of things we might have in common, I asked if they’d ever read the Harry Potter books.

Darius grew solemn. “My family doesn’t read Harry Potter. We’re Christian. And you know Christians don’t really like Harry Potter books.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well I’m a Christian, and I read a couple of the books. I liked them, but they’re just stories, not real.”

Darius looked at me skeptically. “Are you Baptist?”

“No, I’ve gone to a few different kinds of churches, but I guess I’m mostly Catholic.”

This statement excited him. “You’re Catholic? Let me ask you this! Do you like Popes?”

This kid was killing me! I laughed and said, “Well I guess I like the current Pope pretty well. Why do you ask?”

“Because,” he said. “Catholics put the Pope second in line behind Jesus and that breaks the second commandment, you know. Thou shalt not have …”

“… other gods before me?” I guessed. (I don’t have the exact wording memorized, but I figured I knew where he was going with this.)

“Yeah!” he said, seeming pleased that I was following him. “You’re not supposed to do that, you know.”

“Well, we don’t think the Pope is a god,” I explained. “I guess we just think he’s a pretty smart guy that can help us understand what God might want us to do.”

I did not in a million years think I’d be discussing religion with these kids. I found out later I’d probably lucked out with the religion conversation. One of my coworkers ended up hearing about how one of her kids wouldn’t vote for Trump, because he hates a particular ethnicity.

Wanting to steer our conversation back to something we could all appreciate, I asked if anyone had seen the new Jungle Book movie. Soon we were back to normal with both boys talking over one another, each wanting to tell me more things and ask more questions.

As we spent time together,  it occurred to me that my role all this time was supposed to involve helping the kids develop their writing skills, but these boys made the entire experience so unbelievably rewarding for me. The hour of time we had together flew by. I had no awareness of the other volunteers and kids around me in the noisy classroom. I was completely immersed in “my” kids. When it was announced that it was time to say goodbye, both boys expressed a disappointed “Aw!” I felt exactly the same. I could have easily spent more time with them and felt a sadness that we would no longer be able to write each other.

Theo mentioned that he wished he had his phone. Vaguely marveling at the fact that a fourth-grader has a cell phone, I asked why he wanted it.

“So we could take a picture!”

“I have mine,” I suggested. His eyebrows rose in anticipation and as the teacher strolled by our table, I asked if it was okay for me to take a photo. She assured me that was fine. I tried to get a selfie of the three of us, but Darius was busy dancing around and Theo insisted on sticking out his tongue the entire time. I ended up with nothing but blurred photos. Finally, I managed to get them to sit still long enough for me to take one of just the two of them.

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I will never forget these two boys. I’m glad I thought to make a copy of our letters before the notebook was finally returned to them to keep. And now I have a photo by which to remember them as well. As we rode back to work after our visit, my heart was filled with sincere gratefulness that I’d been “given” these two particular boys and had the chance to enjoy their friendship for a little while. I hope that I made a positive impact in some small way, and that they’ll grow up and meet the potential that’s so easy to see inside of them today.

c’est la vie

During the later half of last week, there was rain, rain and more rain. Spring is gradually pushing winter out of the way, as evidenced by the mama ducks I noticed hanging around the building at work. They’re probably making nests in the landscaping, the pond being just a few yards beyond the parking lot. One of the ducks made me laugh as she paced in front of the glass doors, peeking inside and eyeing up employees coming and going from the nearby copy room.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, I awoke to a fiercely howling wind. Or maybe it was Lucy all snuggled against me that woke me. While still sleeping, I’d unconsciously sacrificed my own comfort for hers. All of my blankets  had been pulled off of me and were pinched beneath her. I was shivering, curled up in an unnatural position and had a clear ache radiating up my neck and into my head. Lucy makes herself comfortable like this when she’s cold and wants to warm up. Good thing we love that dog so much, ’cause sometimes she pushes her limits!

When I wandered into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, I noticed the yard was dusted in snow. The wind continued to howl, and Lucy spent the morning sitting and looking curiously out the patio door. Last week when Chesney was home, she’d pulled an adirondack chair out of the shed – some cheap plastic thing the former neighbors had gifted to her when they moved to their new home. Chesney had plunked the chair on the deck with the intent of sitting outside in the sunshine before realizing it wasn’t really that warm. She abandoned the idea altogether, but of course, never put the chair away again and it’s been on the deck ever since. Yesterday, the wind pushed it back and forth across the wooden decking all morning long. Lucy was fascinated, her head  moving right to left, over and over as her eyes followed the drifting chair.

Another week has come and gone too quickly and I find myself surprised that it’s already April. Middle son, Ryker turned twenty-five yesterday! We celebrated with a breakfast of birthday donuts and then he took off to spend the day with his buddies at the Northwest Sports Show, and an evening celebrating with friends. After a couple of weeks of asking Ryker what he might like for a present, and receiving no response, I told him yesterday if he didn’t come up with something, I was going to buy him new jeans (because he desperately needs some that aren’t torn, covered in  grease, or smell like asphalt.) He said that was fine. Proof that he’s not a kid anymore. Clothing is an acceptable gift.

The last couple of weeks at work have been incredibly busy. One team member was out on vacation last week, and the remaining two of us had additional time-sensitive projects on our plates. That meant extra hours and no lunch breaks. On Friday, after an exhausting and stressful week,  our boss pulled us aside to acknowledge our efforts and express appreciation, not only his own, but that of the management team above us. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. We’re ready to do it all again on this week!

In the midst of keeping my head above water at work is the constant battle to have something resembling dinner when I come home at the end of the day. This has become especially important because several times a week, I invite my mom to join us. I want to make sure she’s eating a decent meal on a regular basis. And that means we can’t just skate by, like we often used to, with everyone just finding sustenance in whatever’s in the fridge or cereal cupboard.

IMG_4101Problem is, after almost 28 years of marriage, I’ve finally realized that taking charge of dinner is just not Jack’s thing – even though some of his weekends fall during the week and he’s free all blessed day long! And even if he’s working the day shift and arrives home hours before I do. (But I’m not complaining, really. The man does laundry!) Jack’s more than willing to get take-out or go out somewhere, but I try not to agree to those options too often. However, consistently preparing a variety of enjoyable meals while working all day is a challenge for me. I make use of the crock-pot as much as possible, but one day last week, I realized I could prep something in the morning, and just leave simple instructions for Jack so things would be well underway by the time I got home. I used our kitchen doorway messaging system to leave instructions. (Who needs technology?) Jack says he almost didn’t see my notes! Luckily he did, and we enjoyed some tasty country-style ribs, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

I don’t like the way the days are just ticking by lately. I’m still fighting a tendency to continuously look ahead and worry about what’s next, still always feeling like there’s never enough getting done. In the back of my mind, there’s usually the idea that I’m not stopping to enjoy simple pleasures often enough. Today, an entire (mostly) unscheduled Sunday lies ahead. I have a lot on my to-do list, but I’m going to really try to just be in this day and enjoy it.

Third Day, an Easter Cactus, and More

Seventy (almost) degrees last Saturday. A dusting of snow on the ground this Saturday morning. In many years past, we’ve still had measurable amounts of white on the ground at this point in the season. I should be grateful that today, the winter layers of snow are all gone. But if I’m honest, last weekend’s weather makes a thirty degree plunge hard to swallow. I’ll get over it. Spring is just around the corner.

I still seem to be struggling with writing here regularly, so in the interest of catching up, I’m going to follow my friend MJ‘s lead, and offer some of what she would call “randoms.”

In music: I went to a concert last Saturday with a friend from work. We saw Third Day, a group that falls into the category of Christian music. If I’m honest (again,) I’ll admit that what first drew me to the group was the lead singer’s voice. Is it wrong to admit that I found his voice to be sexy? Listen and tell me I’m wrong.

But I’ve remained a fan because Third Day’s music is so much deeper than their appealing voices and sound. The concert was fantastic and uplifting, and we were so glad we attended. We left there feeling joyful and sorry it was over so soon. Still, I’m going to say that having now seen Third Day in person, the lead singer is not hard to look at! (Those dimples!)

In plants: For all the years of little ones running around the house … not to mention the cats … I could never have plants in the front window where they’d enjoy the most sunlight. My plants were always in sad shape, barely thriving. Now with kids grown and cats gone, the front window can finally be a good home to my plants. There resides an African Violet, as well as the Christmas Cactus that my sister gave me last Christmas. It’s almost Easter, and the Christmas Cactus is blooming! So is the Violet! My grandma, the queen of African Violets, would be so proud. Maybe if I get an Easter Lily, it will bloom on the Fourth of July.

In birthdays: A group of us at work have become a sort of informal birthday celebration committee. We make sure there are decorations and goodies on our coworkers’ special days. It was Tom’s birthday this past week. Being the last one to leave the office the day before, I took the responsibility of decorating his cubicle. I went a little overboard, decorating both outside and in, criss-crossing banners and crepe paper across his work space. As employees walked by, they would stop and chuckle. One called me sneaky! Tom was a good sport when he arrived the next morning. He worked all day in the midst of all the decor, even though that meant ducking in and out of his cubicle.


In dog-loving: My former boss, now my boss’ boss, who is also my friend, stopped by this week to share a story about how her daughter rescued a lost puppy last weekend. She didn’t share this, as one might expect, to see if I needed or wanted another pet, but just because she’s a dog-lover. She said that as a dog-lover myself, she knew I’d appreciate the happy ending. (I did. New owner volunteered. Original owner found.) After we returned to our respective responsibilities, my phone buzzed with a text message.


I smiled because I couldn’t have agreed more.

In Mom news: My mom had lots of plans this week. A friend of Mom’s, my niece, and my youngest brother had all made dates to have dinner with Mom, resulting in a “free” week for me. I was grateful as I had a lot of catching up to do at home. And I accomplished much. I finished and mailed invitations for the bridal shower I’m giving for my niece. Jack and I went out to dinner one night. I picked out paint samples to help me decide colors for the main level, (which I’ve been wanting to paint for three years now.) And I bought a dress for my niece’s wedding which takes place in May. (It’s red, with some bling. Chesney says it might be too flashy for a wedding, but we both agreed if I’m happy with it, I should go with it. I’m keeping the tags on for now, just in case I change my mind.)

As of yesterday, I hadn’t seen Mom since last Sunday! I called as I was leaving work because I missed her and wanted to stop by. Before I could tell her so, she said she missed me. She wasn’t used to going so many days without seeing me. She was thrilled when I asked if I could stop by before her dinner date with my brother. I did so, and we made plans to attend the Sunday evening mass at her church. We did that last week. She was happy to have someone to take her to church and I enjoyed the more contemporary music. A win-win!

And how was your week?


For the past few years, I’ve felt the pull to volunteer in some capacity. But I just haven’t found the right fit. And quite honestly, every time I think about making a serious commitment to some cause, I end up questioning where I think I’ll find the time between working, taking care of my mom and managing the household.

And then one day, my employer announced an opportunity that would allow me to contribute in a small way and do so on company time. Two birds. One stone. I was in like Flynn.

It’s a pen-pal program and we exchange letters with kids at a local elementary school. We’ll write to each other throughout the school year, and the program culminates this spring when we’ll get to meet in person at the pen-pal picnic! Our corporate office piloted the program last year and it was such a success, the opportunity was opened to all of our offices around the country this year. As soon as I volunteered, I anxiously waited to find out who my pal would be.

As it turns out, there weren’t enough volunteers at my office’s location. While volunteers at the other offices were already getting to know their pen-pals, it took an extra couple of weeks to figure things out for us. We finally learned that everyone who volunteered was assigned two kids. Easy enough. These are young students, probably with short attention spans. We’re asked to write a couple of simple paragraphs to each child, once every other week. We were instructed to print all of our letters as kids today aren’t learning cursive! That was so hard to imagine for those of us who spent our grade school years learning to perfectly form our letters between the precisely defined lines of school-issued writing paper.

Each volunteer shares one notebook with both of their kids. The notebooks travel back and forth each week between the office and the school.IMG_3918a The adults writers kicked things off. I began writing to Darius and Theo knowing nothing but their first names and that they were probably in the third grade. I wrote an initial single letter to both boys, telling them a bit about myself, my family and my dog. I asked simple questions about their ages and families, as well as school and other interests.

IMG_3919What fun it was to receive the boys’ responses! I was amazed at how their personalities began to shine through right from the start. Darius told me he was nine years old, and I could see he was a bit reserved. He mainly answered the questions I’d asked in my first letter. But he also let me know that he loves to watch Star Wars Rebels. I have no idea what that is, but I am determined to become familiar in the interest of solidifying our friendship and drawing him out of his shell as we get to know each other. Darius also wanted to know Lucy’s age.


IMG_3920Theo, who is ten, was more open in his letter to me. And while it was immediately obvious that he’s not yet a big fan of punctuation, I was happy to find that we shared a connection as dog lovers. I learned that Theo’s dog, Hades is still a puppy and likes to eat “squrils.” I actually thought he was trying to tell me that eating the squirrel gave Hades the sh*ts, but I quickly realized I’d just misread his little boy writing. Thankfully, while Hades may have had the sh*ts, Theo only wanted to share that his dog had received shots. And he’s all better now.


On my second turn with the notebook, I wrote separate letters to each of the boys. We’re not allowed to send anything that could be construed as a gift, but photos, postcards, and things such as stickers are allowed. I decorated their pages with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Transformers stickers. I answered their questions, telling them a bit more about Lucy, and asked for more details about their families and pets. In their first letters, each had shared that they have a number of brothers and sisters. This time, I asked more questions about their siblings… how old they were, and whether they shared bedrooms, and if they got along well, or sometimes fought, as my kids did while growing up.

The boys’ responses were cute, both including little doodles around the margins. Theo framed his response in penciled, criss-cross formed stars. And with their replies, I was reminded of another detail that was given when I’d first attended the  pen pal program’s informational session. It’s part of the reason we have a healthy snack drive going on for these same kids. Sixty percent of the children who attend our adopted school are from families living at or below the poverty line. As I read their letters, my mind made the leap to single-parent and broken-family situations. My heart broke a little when both boys answered my questions about their siblings. Darius’ note was both funny  – when he told me about his cats, named Bug, Mush and Eva, and slightly sad when he answered my questions about his siblings. He told me that he does fight sometimes with one brother, “Nate, as I call him,” but that he hasn’t seen his other brothers in a long time. “And I miss them.” 


Theo told me that he doesn’t live with his three brothers and sister, “but I see them sometimes.” He included an illustration of a time when he was with one brother. His brother is obviously older, and slightly bossy. Theo described how he was sitting on the couch and his brother told him, “Come on.” It was time to go to bed. Theo asked, “Why?” Apparently, the instruction given by his brother “confuesed” Theo.

But Theo made me smile too when he talked more about his puppy. I had told Theo that Lucy is a mixed breed, but it seems there is a lot of Boxer in her. Theo told me that Hades is “a full piple.” (You know. PIP-le. Or, Pitt Bull, as I like to call them.) Like Lucy, Hades apparently can’t resist breaking all of his toys. Theo included a p.s. in his letter, telling me that Hades is currently sixty pounds, with the potential to reach a hundred and ten! (Very precise is this boy!)


There’s already a soft-spot forming in my heart for these little guys, and I’m really hoping that our letters continue not only to encourage and improve their writing skills, but also to foster great friendships.

Cold but not complaining

The real Minnesota winter reportedly arrives tonight. We’ve been spoiled so far. There’s a small amount of snow on the ground, but for the most part, temperatures have been pretty bearable ever since summer ended. That all ends today and it’s all they’ve talked about on the news these past few days. Especially as this weather relates to a pretty important football game which takes place here tomorrow. In an outdoor stadium. Where the high might reach 4. I’m glad I’m not a football fan but there are plenty of die-hards who are braving the weather to support the Vikings this weekend!


The first post-holiday week of 2016 has gone by already. Can you believe that? I was worried it would seem interminable, considering I probably haven’t worked a full week since the beginning of December and having long weekend at home felt so nice the last two weeks. But it was a really great week. There is forward movement in my job and in my department, and it’s all very positive, team-oriented and exciting. More important than the inner workings and perks of my job though, I was reminded several times why I love not just what I do, but where I do it. And it has so much to do with the people who surround me.

I’ve been employed in this job long enough to have made some deep connections, and I thank God everyday for this. One of these connections is with C. On a professional level, she alternately either drives me crazy with the way her mind and priorities race from one thing to another, or feels like my closest ally. But no matter how annoyed I might sometimes feel, I admire her passion, drive and perseverance, and I often aspire to be more like her. In the past year, our common life circumstances drew us closer on a more personal level. C’s mom suffered and survived a massive stroke early last year and will never make a full recovery. You can imagine the repercussions.

Yesterday, I stopped in to C’s office to get some background on a particular project. After confirming the necessary details, I asked, “How’s your mom?”

C told me her mom was holding steady and that their holidays were enjoyable. She then shared that she came into the new year with a new perspective. Gratefulness. She said that all last year, she faced each day with an attitude of getting past certain circumstances  so that she could get back to a more comfortable and normal life. She told me that before the stroke, her mom was her best friend. C called her every day to talk about what was good, what was challenging, and what was ahead. After the stroke, those deep conversations with her mom were no longer possible. This was such a huge loss, and so devastating for C. But since then, she has developed a stronger relationship with her dad. It’s Dad with whom she talks every day. And they never hang up the phone without saying “I love you.”

I knew exactly what she meant. This stuff changes you. Now that my dad is gone, I can’t leave my mom without hugging her and telling her “I love you.” In recent years, that’s not been uncommon, but these days, our I love yous aren’t trite like they may have been in the past. Both the hugs and the words these days are deep and sincere. I often feel a tug on my heart at having to leave Mom’s side, even though I know I’ll probably see her again the next day.

C said that starting this year, she will try to embrace each day, not just try to get through it and on to something that feels easier. She said she has realized that such devastating circumstances have provided unexpected grace and blessings. She was crying by this time and telling me what a blessing I have been to her in the time we’ve shared such similar circumstances. What was meant to be a quick, professional visit to her office ended with tears and hugging. I said to her, “Don’t cry,” and she replied, “No, it’s okay. This is a good cry.”

She showed me a little journal that has become a part of her new goals. It’s a gratitude journal, and every day, she writes down three things for which she is grateful. She said she would be writing about me in her journal that evening.

I am inspired by C’s attitude of gratitude. For the past few years, I myself have worked towards recognizing and being more appreciative of all that is good in my life. But I have been inconsistent in actually documenting it. I like the idea and am going to try to do so on a more frequent … dare I say daily? …basis.

Well … I’ve got to start somewhere, sometime. Therefore …

  1. C – This one’s a little obvious, but I am grateful to have C in my world. Instead of feeling as if I’d hit the doldrums and dreariness typical of this time of year, she inspired me to rise above them and look forward to each day. She reminded me that even work doesn’t need to make us feel as if we’re going through the motions. There might be a gift inside each and every moment. But we have to look.
  2. Jack’s work schedule – While I’m often annoyed at how my husband’s job often keeps him away on nights and weekends, it allows me guilt-free time to be with my mom. This week, on a night I might otherwise have been eating frozen pizza alone at home, I instead cooked a walleye dinner and shared it with my mom. It was a nice change of pace.
  3. Heated seats – A genius invention. They make me feel spoiled, but I love the fact that even on the coldest day, I can get into my car and feel instant warmth!