Thursday, November 12, 2009

Doing My Job Without A Home

I was never promised an office...a new camera, yes, and a new computer, but never an office.
There is a lot to be said for each employee having at least a small space to call ‘home’. A place for personal effects...a comb, a tube of lipstick...whatever you might need before rushing off to the next appointment. Maybe a photo or two of kids and grandkids...anything homey to make you feel less ‘out there’ and still connected to your primary residence. All this takes having your own space to place these things in...say just a cubicle...or even a cardtable in a corner somewhere.
Well, I have no place to hang a hat...good thing they are out of style!
I have taken up an attitude of kinship with the old western writer, Louis L’Amour...who said he could write with a typewriter on his lap sitting in the middle of Sunset Blvd.
So why am I whining? Actually, I’m not...
I love my job...can you believe it is possible to even say that phrase with an ounce of sincerity? I do!...I love my job. Everyday is exciting...something new. I’m still holding my breath...afraid that someone will discover that there is an employee out there that is actually having a great time doing her job...and fire her! (“We can’t have people actually liking what they do! Never heard of such a thing!...can’t let that get out around her!”)
Now, maybe everyday is exciting because I’m over 50 and have to relearn where everything is in “where did I put that on the hard drive”?
Or, maybe the excitement comes from having the best of both worlds. After working full time for some years I now get to clock out and go home at noon everyday. I am actually cleaning out my cupboards and home has become a place that I truly enjoy now that it is becoming neat and orderly.
Whatever. All that to say this:
I don’t have to have a cubicle or a hatrack. The end of the boardroom -sized table that serves my needs each morning is just fine! And I have the added blessing of putting everything back in my briefcase and leaving an uncluttered table to return to the next day. No messy desk glaring at me first thing every morning! Maybe that in itself gives everyday a fresh start with a great attitude! (Whispering: I love my job!)

December's Pure Joy

My husband and I just returned from Hatfield Park. It’s a quiet little park nestled beside a pond in rural Oklahoma. This morning the park was even quieter than usual due to the snow, which had fallen throughout the night. There are now four inches of that wonderful stuff piled up outdoors. As I sit in my cozy recliner, with a view of our snowy backyard, I begin re-living my morning experience at the park.
As we made preparations to take the dogs for a run at the park, I tucked a black plastic trash bag “sled” into my pocket, and we headed out to our 4-WD vehicle. On the road to the park I received a professor/lawyer lecture from my husband (# 499 in the ongoing series) about the risks involved in not being certain of what is under the snow, especially when it is just a black plastic trash bag separating me from the earth.
(I wonder if there happens to be a university somewhere that gives out honorary degrees to professor’s wives with attentive listening skills? Possibly some sort of a “BS” degree?)

We arrived at the park, I began climbing a steep hill that was just perfect for sledding. Being a grandmother (in my 50’s) I was a bit awkward. This used to be much easier! Hoping to scout out the path I would soon travel down, I used my Nike’s as “bump detectors” and made my way to the top of the hill.

I sat down on my “sled”, and then it happened. Pure joy! I slid my way down through some sort of midlife star gate. When I reached the bottom of the hill it was as if my whole world changed from black and white to color, and I felt totally alive. I don’t believe that would have happened if I had been on a real sled, or a saucer, protecting me from feeling the earth beneath me.
My thirst to repeat the experience kept me climbing up that hill several more times. Two of those times, my scruffy dog, Jake, rode down the hill on top of me.
Jake is my inspiration for cutting loose and enjoying, with pure abandon, whatever is occurring at the present moment. Living in town without a fenced yard Jake stays tied up most of the time. When he does get turned loose he is ecstatic. His joy is boundless, and he runs non-stop.

I stay “tied up” most of the time also - my fenceless yard being grown-up responsibilities. These consume my days, and sometimes my evenings, leaving me numbed and exhausted and falling into bed early so that I can get up the next morning and do the same thing all over again, but not today. Today I stood on the top of a snowy hill and called to my inner child to come out and play.


Whistling Gophers

My husband just got back from the coffee shop - our local source of important information. He must have been talking about new cars again. A buddy told him to watch out for the "whistling gophers". Now that term may not be new to you - but it sure was to us.

It goes like this: you are at the car dealership and you ask, "How much does it go for?" Then you whistle!

That started me thinking about how many whistling gophers there have been at our house in this past year.

“How much does that new roof go for?” Whistle.

“How much for the new transmission for the Volkswagen?” Whistle.

You get the idea - you have your own list of whistling gophers.

So what can we do about whistling gophers? Not much.

They seem to come in three categories though - maybe it helps to define them. Some are on a “got-to-have” list. Others are just on a “want-to-have” list. The tricky list is the “can-be-put-off” list. Those are the ones that usually surprise you when you least expect it. At our house we tend to gravitate toward the “got-to-have” list. That seems to keep life relatively easier to handle financially.

The “want-to-have” list is usually full of things that I can loose the intense desire for, if I stop thinking about it. The trick is to really stop thinking about it! The old Quakers had it right. “Tell me what thee thinks thee needs, and I will tell thee how to live without it”. Sounds like sage advice to me, and I’m sure my husband would approve of this new line if reasoning.

Body Language

The main characters in some of the greatest movies of all time use body language to powerfully dramatize an attitude of acceptance.

Julie Andrews, face aglow and whirling around on an open meadow, stretches her arms out wide and begins singing at the top of her lungs: “the hills are alive with the sound of music”…(movie scene fades away).

A young Civil War officer, badly wounded, sits astride a beautiful horse. Opening his arms wide, and asking forgiveness of the Almighty, he sends his horse running, one last time, across the front line of the enemy…challenging them to end his life.

A young man lifts his female companion up and steadies her as she clings to the railing of the ships bow in front of her. Her eyes are closed. He encourages her to let go and open her arms wide, and then open her eyes. She finds herself high above the ocean surface, nothing else in view, not even the ocean liner beneath her. She smiles and accepts the full impact of all that her senses are absorbing.

A Russian Jew, in the throws of an oppressive regime, standing in his barn, flings his arms wide open and begins to dance and sing about what he would do if he were rich.

One more. The scene is modern day New York. A shopkeeper is closing the front door of her empty store for the last time, the same store where she spent many happy childhood hours with her mother who is now deceased. As she looks one last time into the empty room she catches a vision of the past. Her mother is holding her under the arms and twirling ‘round and ‘round.

All scenes from movies and not real life - or are they? Maybe I should rephrase that to ask, “or can they be?”

We can “body language” ourselves through life on this planet in one of two ways. We can fold our arms across our chests and live a closed-off life. Or we can choose to open our arms wide - embracing life, and our fellow man, with an acceptance that encircles the globe.

My Grandpa

The man I remember…
He was gentle, strong and manly
He had a tenderness that increased with age
He enjoyed a good joke and laughed easily
Careful in money matters and conscientious toward any debt
He was an honest man and sensitive, easily hurt.

He was a fair man
He shared in grandma’s household duties
And thoroughly enjoyed his garden and yard.
Because of illness, diminished strength and sufficiency
He found the last years a struggle
His faith was quiet but true
A meal was never received in his home without his:
“Father, it is again we come to thee with thankful hearts…”

“A thankful heart that is what you have left me, grandpa…”
The memory of the just is blessed indeed.

Sassy, The Vegetarian Cat

I am having a disagreement with my calico cat, Sassy, about our new diet. Today marks the first anniversary of my semi-vegetarian diet. And my cat has horrified me for the very last time with her gift of a dead songbird at our front door. She has been put on notice that she is also now a vegetarian – an indoor cat.

I was holding her in my arms when I shared this piece of information with her and she immediately hissed loudly at me. Honest, you can ask my husband, Randy! Then she jumped down and trotted off, in her little white pantaloons, with her tail just a flicking.

So much for the bonding relationship that I thought we were working on together!

The other family member who is loosely associated with my lifestyle change, of course, is Randy. He understands that “going veggie” was a personal choice for me and that I will prepare anything for him that he chooses to eat. He seems to like this arrangement. I mean who wouldn’t. Most of the time I used to fix whatever I was hungry for and make him eat it too. Now he gets to choose for himself - everyday!

The argument going around on the Internet is whether or not “semi” vegetarian is actually a vegetarian diet at all. I eat absolutely no beef. I have, over the past year eaten some chicken and pork, but now I am “fish only” – two or three servings a week and in the past year one third of my days were totally vegetarian – no fish or meat at all.

Who cares what someone else on the Internet thinks about that? Not me. I feel great and this works for me. Is my diet healthier? Sort of, but now comes the hard part – limiting sugar and “carbs”. To be truly healthier I have a alot of extra weight to loose.

I hereby give you permission to shake your finger at me if you see me standing in the checkout line at Alva’s Market or Wal-Mart with candy in my basket. Seriously! If I argue back and tell you that the candy is for my grandkids – don’t believe me. They live in Stillwater. (It’s just the sugar talking!) This is war, and my cat has turned against me, I need a friendly army on my side!

Grandma's Rolling Pin

In the process of making homemade chicken and noodles for my husband Randy, the thought occurred to me that my rolling pin would outlast me – as it did my grandmother. I guess my mind traveled to that conclusion because I was using her rolling pin to roll out the noodles.

My grandmother has been gone for many years now and I thoroughly enjoy using her old rolling pin and remembering what she did with it. I can hold this treasured piece of wood in my hands, but never again will I taste the wonderful noodles, cookies, pies, and other goodies that she made, with the help of this treasured rolling pin.

I come from a family of cooks who have used their cooking and baking skills in many ways. There is my brother who, for a time, worked as a chef in Seattle and Los Angeles. Also my sister, in Alaska, who managed the lunch counter at a large health food store and enjoyed playing with recipes for the vegetarian palate.

My mother often cooked Sunday dinners for company after church. Or spent a whole afternoon making homemade cinnamon rolls, and dinner rolls. She also made the best jams in the world, to go on those luscious dinner rolls - raspberry jam, and frozen strawberry jam. Yum! And, for a time, her pies sold in a small café on the main highway between Bothell and Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle.

My dad had a flair for creating an awesome sweet barbeque sauce from scratch. Chicken off the grill takes on a whole new flavor with this sauce. The family finally convinced him to write down the recipe. I can still see him standing at the kitchen counter, sometime in the 1950’s, measuring each ingredient, for the first time, so we could reproduce what he was able to just throw together. We still use his recipe to this day. Even Randy, who does not easily move toward a new taste, became a convert after we were married.

Speaking of Randy, he makes the best homemade chili I’ve ever tasted. He tosses in some fresh veggies near the end of the cooking time so you have the crunch of diced celery, onions and green peppers, as well as the warmth and goodness of the chili, in every bite. Doesn’t that sound great during this cold snap we’ve been experiencing?

So where do I fit in this creative group? I love to bake pies. It warmed my heart, a few years ago, to have my youngest son ask me to teach his bride how to make cherry pies. My grandmothers, on both sides of my family, left me a pie-baking legacy that I feel honor bound to continue into the next generation of our family. And that always brings me back to my grandmother’s rolling pin.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

Some stories from our past deserve a retelling. At least that is how I feel about something that happened to me many years ago here at our local grocery store on Flynn Street.

Guys used to call a good-looking girl a “tomato”. Remember those days? Slang terms have changed many times over the years but most folks still “have a clue” when you use a phrase that has been “knocking around” for a long time. “Catch my drift”?

On this particular afternoon I stopped by the store after work to pick up two tomatoes to add to our dinner salad.

I headed to the checkout and saw a younger woman headed there just ahead of me. Both of us were just behind a dapper older gentleman. He quickly turned to the darling younger woman in front of me and motioned her ahead of him in line. I assumed that the generous nature of the man was appeased by that action.

Being in my mid-forties at the time I was no longer under the illusion that my looks would get me any consideration in a grocery checkout line…and I was about to take up my place behind him.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the offer of his hand motioning me ahead of him in line also. Not only surprised, but infused with a fresh feeling of not being so old after all! But observing my plastic bag of tomatoes, he trumped the pleasantness of my own musings by remarking, “I’d do anything for a couple of “tomatoes”!

After living here awhile longer and getting acquainted with more folks I am fairly positive that the gentleman at the grocery store that day was none other than the late Joe Denner. What a gentleman!

In The Company of His Fellow Marines

My dad is no better than any other single Marine. He is not a combat hero or an academy graduate; he is just a Marine through and through. He plans to be buried in his dress blues - the same attire that he first wore in 1937. That is how he sees himself entering heaven. That is how I see it, too.

I never lived on a military installation but I was born on a base, Sandpoint Naval Air Station in Seattle, Washington. Dad retired in 1959 after completing 22 years in the service. Some might think it tiresome that he continues to interject “old war stories” into today’s conversations but his family realizes that was when dad felt the strongest, the bravest and the proudest – with Marine Corps blood coursing through his veins. Who would ever want that feeling to end and who would not try to keep that feeling alive with the retelling?

Some who served their wartime enlistment and then went on to do “more important” things with their lives sometimes seem to have a dismissive attitude about those who pursued full time military careers. It amazes me that they so soon forgot that a standing military is one of the things that ensured them the privilege of pursuing those other interests.

In this day of U.S. military deployments around the world, and more being planned, it is well to take a moment to consider the individual soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine, which you may know personally, and the family that stays behind to worry and wait.

In my earliest memory of being alive my dad was in Korea for 11 months. I know that I knew him before he left but I have no conscious memories of him before he returned from Korea in 1954. No early memories of my dad because he was serving our country. There must be thousands of current day children experiencing the same thing.

I mentioned earlier the “Marine Corps blood” coursing through my father’s veins. I obviously inherited some of that, and even if I had a complete transfusion it would not alter that for me!

I’m proud of my father and I’m proud that he is still a Marine.

“Semper Fi, dad!”

A Magical Christmas

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I am already prowling around the house looking for the Christmas magazines that I save year after year, and our old holiday movies - anything to rekindle that spark of holiday cheer that seems just below my radar screen at this time of year.

There was a period of time, in our family life, when Christmas seemed to loose it’s spark of cheer. The boys were all grown and away from home. None of them were married yet so there were no grandchildren on the scene.

Hiding deep inside of me there is a memory of the holiday that changed all of that. It was the nearest thing to a perfect holiday, that I have ever experienced, and it happened 13 years ago this month, just before Christmas 1996.

My first grandchild was three weeks old. She was the most precious thing I had ever seen. Okay, so I am a doting grandmother. I admit it. But if you are a grandmother, or a great grandmother (or grandfather) I bet you are one also!

That specific day began with our grown children coming home to make the first Christmas cookies of the season and to help decorate our Christmas tree. That was all the planning I had done for the day. The rest of that day, and the moment of magic, was not something I can take credit for in any way.

As two were in the kitchen baking cookies and one was helping decorate the tree I sat down to hold my tiny granddaughter and get another good look at her. As I sat there in the midst of the pre-Christmas activity happening all around me – the magic began - it started to snow.

You have to understand that I am not a native Oklahoman. I was born in Seattle – in a convergent zone that dumped snow on us every year as I was growing up. So I came to expect that as part of the holiday season. And one other thing you need to know is that I have never had my fill of snow. Except maybe during the blizzard that we just drove through on October 25 from Rapid City, South Dakota - all the way to southern Colorado.

Snow has always been my favorite weather and so there I was, just before Christmas 1996, in a perfect pre-holiday scenario. All of the kids home, and all the Christmas cheer happening around me, and holding my little granddaughter who was about to experience her very first Christmas. Then the snow started falling and that is when the little girl, still inside of me, seemed to experience a Christmas rebirth in my heart.

I think I will go pop Jimmy Stewart’s It’s A Wonderful Life into the DVD player.