A Moment of Perfect Peace

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Yesterday afternoon, after an hour of bustling about, shovelling, raking, and putting garden equipment away, I wrapped up my work in the shade of the garage and walked around the corner of the house to the garden.  I was hit with with a wall of calm and peace that stopped me in wonder.  The sun, about to dip below the line of the hills, doused the field and forest with golden light.  The sky was deep blue and cloudless.  The air was absolutely still, and there was not a sound in the valley except for a whisper of water flowing in a far away stream.  It was as if the world had released all stress and motion in exchange for a perfect meditative moment of simple, joyous being.

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Big Boxes, Wasted Space

 

IMG_0501I roll my eyes in frustration when yet another online order arrives rattling in an oversized box.  Why waste the cardboard and yards and yards of packing material  to ship empty space when a small box or envelope would do.  I have trouble understanding the business sense in this. Isn’t it both economic and ecological to use smaller amounts of resources in shipping?

IMG_3493This summer I took a group of young people in a job training program on a field trip to a local company with a national mail-order business.  We got to walk through and try our hands at the whole process of filling an order, from “picking” the items from shelves and putting them in baskets on a conveyor belt, to packing them, adding postage, and stacking the boxes for shipment.  At the packing station, I asked why a large box was being used to send a small item, instead of an envelope or smaller box.  Our guide pointed out that 1.) an envelope could be punctured, and that would ruin the item for the customer;  that 2.) the amount of cardboard needed for a small box is proportionately not that much less than for a large one, (think geometrically – surface area vs. volume – do the math!);  and that 3.) the larger box had come into the facility with products in it and was now being reused.  It was more ecological to recycle it this way than spend money and resources on a smaller, new box.  This gave me pause and reminded me that rather than jump to conclusions, we should stop to consider other perspectives before passing judgment.  My judgment changed for this company, but are the majority of other companies as eco-conscious as this one?  And, is there a cost to the wasted space taken in shipping half empty boxes?

On the home front, much as we try to re-use the boxes that come into our house for storage, mailing, and wrapping gifts, at some point there are too many, so off they go to the recycling compactor at the town dump.  I have my doubts about how effective and efficient that is, but what other choices are there?  Can I find a small business that wants my boxes?  Hey – there’s an idea for eco-entrepreneur!

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Once Every 30 Years

IMG_0098It seems that we’re in deferred maintenance mode this year.  It’s catch-up time for the tasks that you know you should tackle, but that just aren’t at the top of your to-do list.  This summer we finally had our septic tank pumped.  We knew we should have done it sooner, but we just never got around to it.  It turns out you’re supposed to pump the tank every 3 to 5 years.  For us, this was the first time since building the house over 30 years ago!  Oops.  When the technician first came, we couldn’t even find the cap to the tank;  that took a friend with a small backhoe.  With the second visit, we had the pumping of the sludge, with a giant vacuum cleaner tube sucking muck across the lawn to the truck. The tank was full, but thank heavens it hadn’t clogged the leach field yet.

Later in the summer, when we had our furnace checked, we were informed that they wouldn’t give us a service contract for it anymore;  it is too old.  We’ve had small repairs over the years, but apparently furnaces typically get replaced after 15-20 years.  We’ve had ours over 30.  Since the house has a passive solar system, we haven’t overworked the furnace, so perhaps this is not a surprise. Still, we brought in two plumber/HVAC specialists to tell us what we need and give us quotes.  After including a few improvements that we’ve been considering for a few decades (more deferred action), we’re planning for a small disruption and big bill next month.  That’s better than waiting until it breaks down in the middle of a blizzard.

This week we also took care of another long deferred task – updating our wills.  The last time we did this, which was also the first time, was 34 years ago. At the time, our main worry was who would take care of our children if we died in a plane crash.  Now that they’re having children of their own (or hopefully thinking about it) our motivation has changed. Our current goal is to keep things simple and make transitions as easy as possible.  I was shocked at how much this will cost, but the lawyer pointed out that the bill from 34 years ago, which was still attached to the old will, was substantial for the time.  Given inflation, I suppose it’s not so bad. And if it saves our kids the frustration and fees from sorting our affairs after our deaths, it’s worth it. I’m just glad we’re not paying New York prices for this!

Pitcher plant and ants

Ants on a pitcher plant

As I move through my third week of retirement, the list of deferred tasks to address seems to be growing instead of shrinking.  I wish I had kept up with more of them, both the short term and the 30-year ones, but I don’t regret time spent on more pleasurable activities.  My advice – find a balance;  you don’t have to be an ant, but don’t be a grasshopper.  Make a will before you die, and definitely pump your septic tank before it overflows!

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First Week of Retirement – Dipping a Toe in the Ocean

What did I do on my first day of retirement?  First I went to a morning yoga class.  Great start!  Then I came home and spent an hour finishing a report for work that I hadn’t turned in last week.  Bad habit!  At least I also spent some time figuring out what I would accept as a consulting fee for future projects.  (I sent the proposal in, and haven’t heard back – hmmm.) I went on to work in the garden, do laundry, practice clarinet, read, and bake myself a celebratory apple cake.  Not a bad first day.

What did I do on my second day of retirement?  I went to work!  Crazy?  I had agreed to stay with one of my programs this year, and although it only requires one day per month, this was the second day of so-called retirement.  At least it was a beautiful day, and I was in the woods doing environmental field studies with 6th graders.  Afterwards, I ran into town for a workshop on retirement plans and health insurance.  It starts to feel real, and the amount of homework required to make intelligent decisions is daunting.

IMG_0151On the third day it was retirement mindset again. I played tennis in the morning.  Feeling strong! But when it takes a half hour to get to the court for an hour’s lesson, and a half hour to get home, plus time for some errands – the morning is gone.  When I thought about it, I realized that two of my three errands in town were work-related (and unpaid).  Bad habit!  The rest of the day was focused on making apple butter and canning it, having recently (on a weekend, of course) picked a half bushel at a local orchard.  The day also included more clarinet practice, more laundry, and more relaxing with a romance novel.

IMG_0154The fourth day arrived, and the exercise for the morning was house cleaning – no excuses, because a family guest coming for the night.  The garden-kitchen activity was making and freezing pesto from the last of the garden basil, and chopping herbs and garlic for “salamoia”, an Italian herbed salt.  The accounting chores couldn’t be put off, so I finally sat down to write checks, make appointments, and answer email, but I got distracted by sorting and deleting old photos (that’s further down the to-do list).  I still have ties to work, including references to write, but I don’t feel motivated to do much in that area. It’s hard to make a clean break.  At a rehearsal in the evening, I realized that the musicians on either side of me had been retired for a decade or so and were going strong.  Good role models!

It’s Friday and raining.  I can’t avoid sitting and writing, although I circle around the computer, finding little.  My retirement to-do list includes sharing deep thoughts about retirement and self-discovery.  That seems like an impossible and arrogant goal now, as I’m stuck in the day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, flow of more concrete activities.  I am starting to chip away at a list of postponed tasks and projects (“I’ll do that when I retire”), and it seems like a Sisyphean task.  Am I using this to avoid the more difficult task of looking at my past self and then exploring new goals?  Perhaps I have to work through a crust of deferred desires before I can access a deeper level.  Wait – it’s only the first week!  I have time.  I think I’ll go bake an apple pie.

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Mothers in the Driver’s Seat

img_0176We had some early snow in October.  Sometimes a little slush on the road is worse than a snowy accumulation, especially when you don’t have snow tires on the car yet.  My commute home is on winding rural roads, and in spite of cautious driving, I skidded into the other lane while going up a hill.  It was a small wobble, and there were no other cars around, but it brought back a memory.

Years ago, I was driving to the airport with my mother.  She was making a last minute alteration to my raincoat sleeves while I negotiated the heavy traffic in the rain.  I noticed a driver passing at an unsafe speed, but it wasn’t my concern – until a few seconds later when that driver, who turned out to be drunk, caused a multi-car accident.  I have a vivid memory of lights reflecting off wet pavement and a long slow sliding into the car in front of me as I slammed on the brakes.

Our car had seat belts, but not shoulder straps.  My head flew forward and hit the steering wheel.  It broke my jaw, and instead of going to Europe for a summer study program, I went to the hospital, followed by a summer with my mouth wired shut.  One thing I remember clearly is my mother saying over and and over again, “Why couldn’t it have been me? I wish it was me.”  She didn’t pay attention to her own injuries, and only worried about me, although there was nothing she could do but wait and watch as police and ambulance arrived.

Recently, my adult daughter confided in me about a worrying health issue.  I felt helpless and ineffective in response.  There is nothing I can do but wait and watch.  I pray in my own way, but I can’t save her from worry or pain.  I can love and support in all kinds of ways, but as a mother, that doesn’t seem like enough. Why can’t it be me?  Why can’t I take this on myself and save my child from harm?  When I broke my jaw, my mother wished she had been driving.  Perhaps she thought she could have stopped in time.  More likely, she wished it was her jaw that was broken instead of mine.

When I skidded on that October slush, I was traveling slowly, so it was a short, harmless move, easily corrected.   I wish I could do that for my children.  I wish I could be in the driver’s seat for their lives, to protect from the unexpected, to deflect the uncontrollable, to save them from harm.

 

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Three and a Half Years Later

img_8300It’s been three and a half years since my last post.  Once you’re fully employed, there’s less time and energy for blogging.  It was also difficult to share thoughts and emotions while in an on-going battle for justice, which eventually I lost in appeals.  Losing the last appeal felt like a failure, even thought I knew it was being judged on a narrow legal issue and not on the merits of the full case.  In any case, it was over.  But instead of providing closure, it felt like closing a door.  It felt like stuffing all the difficulties of the those years into a closet and forcing the door closed.  But the door was bulging outwards and some of its contents were demanding attention.  There was an undertow beneath the surface of my life that was keeping me down, holding me back.

I have finally started to unpack the mess.   I recently volunteered to give a talk at a leadership event, entitled “When They Don’t Want You…” where I shared my experiences and asked how they might have meaning for others in leadership.  This forced me to revisit events, reread documents, and double check facts that I had not consciously thought about in a long time.  I had to condense the experience and distill the most meaningful parts.  I didn’t want to whine or sound defensive.  I didn’t want to brag or bluster.  I had to put the experience in context and think hard about the take-away message for other professionals.

I spent days and weeks avoiding the preparation I needed to do.  And then I spent days and hours circling issues, zeroing in, writing, revising, researching, and finally practicing.  When the time came, I had my 15 minutes in front of my peers, and it felt good.  I took them on a journey.   They laughed when it was funny, and they were silent and attentive when it was not.  Afterwards, I was congratulated for being brave enough to share, and it was interesting to hear how it affected individuals differently.

I don’t know if I have found closure, or if it is the start of a deeper exploration.  I am proud to have forced myself to take on this challenge. I feel lighter;  a cloud has lifted.  Now I am able to write for this blog, and perhaps make it public.  And I can think about doing more (maybe an article or book?), or letting it slide away.  Weather report?  Partly sunny, I hope.

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Update on the Juggling

I can’t believe it’s been four weeks since I last posted on the blog.  Think of a juggler, keeping multiple balls (or fruits or even eggs) in the air, letting some drop and adding others, but never stopping the flow.  Here’s an update on what’s in the air and what has splattered.

  • Rejections:  I’ve received several rejection letters, all nicely worded but totally impersonal.  I much prefer email communication for rejections.  When an organization sends a letter, it’s usually so long in coming that 1.) you already know you weren’t called for an interview and 2.) you’re annoyed that they didn’t have the courtesy to communicate in a timely manner.
  • Ironic interview: One of the interviews I had last month was for a position that would have included supervising the career center where I had my re-employment meetings.  How wonderful that would have been – to end my unemployment by finding jobs for the unemployed.  I was pleased to be interviewed, but my background was perhaps too out of the box for a government bureaucrat.
  • End of the end of story: Remember the chapters in this saga?  In the very end the administrator finally did call and leave a voice message (on Thursday of that week, not Monday), telling me that the reason they didn’t contact me sooner was that they were hoping to find another position for me.  They were waiting to see if another person was leaving, in which case they might have offered me her job.  (She didn’t leave.)  I made an appointment to talk with the administrator, and although it took another eleven days to connect, we did have a nice conversation, including a review of the process.  All would have been simpler if she had just been open about the situation.
  • Applying for more jobs:  I have been applying for more jobs as they come up.  It’s been hard to rev up the enthusiasm you need for each one, especially after the ups and downs of being a finalist for similar jobs recently.   I even missed a deadline for one application.  (My sub-conscious mind made it clear to me that it was not a good fit.) Two applications that I did get in are now up in the air, waiting for search committees to meet and review.  Either I’ll get the phone call for an interview, or in a month or two I’ll get the blandly polite rejection letter.
  • A promotion in spite of no contract:  The check (for April) is in the mail, or so they say.  I’m working about 10 hours per week for my Canadian company, and although I have yet to sign a contract or agreement (the first one they sent was inappropriate, and the revised one never completed), I received a promotion.  Because of my experience, I moved to reviewing other people’s work and am developing an evaluation and feedback structure for the company.  That moved me from $18/hour to $20/hour.  It’s so odd to be an hourly worker after being salaried all my life.  My perception of what is a good hourly rate is fuzzy right now, after my various part-time efforts this year.
  • Two days a week:  As an add-on to my consulting, I am working two days each week with students.  It’s directly related to the program I’m developing, and it feels good to be in a hands-on situation.  The pay is non-profit agency low ($15/hour), but the satisfaction is high.
  • Consulting:  My consulting on program development is the most satisfying of my professional activities.  I would love for it to turn into something more, but there is a certain reality that depends on grants and other funding.  My future here is uncertain.
  • Routine auditor meetings:  My position as town auditor has settled into a monthly routine of meetings and a few hours’ work.   I am content to keep that civic responsibility going for years.  (Remember, I’m an elected official!)
  • Background noise:  The on-going situation that I can’t talk about here provides a low level of background stress in my life.  It’s something that I learn to live with, but it stirs up tension every so often, depending on various timelines.  It’s a lesson in patience and inner calm.
  • Gardening:   See Spruce Knob Garden for more about that part of my life.
  • Neglecting the blog:  Because of all the above, I am not writing much.  I need to set better priorities.  Part of the potential for this year (or years?) is time to develop neglected interests and skills.   (I’ve also neglected to clean out the basement, another project I had hoped to attack, but that is less distressing to me!)
  • Escaping into detective novels:  And so, I regularly escape into fiction.  Recently I have read murder mysteries solved by a Chinese female detective (in modern day China), by a woman in the mid-west who bakes cakes for a living, by an English woman who is living in a book with fictional characters, and by a French-Canadian policeman.  I tend to pick up a book during my volunteer library stint on Fridays and gobble it down before the end of the weekend.
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