Wednesday, August 05, 2009

So much has happened since I last blogged! The thing on the top of my mind is that I have begun my new job. While I don't think I have really experienced what the routine will be yet, I do begin to feel confident that I made a good choice and that I can be successful.

So far, I have mainly been contacting people who already have a tax sheltered annuity and offering to do an account review with them. I wasn't clear on how that would make me any money, but in fact I have found that many people either want to increase the amount they are putting in, or there are new and better products available now so that they benefit from rolling over their existing product into a new one. So I have, in fact, made sales at a relatively high percentage of my appointments.

The problem, of course, is that it's summer and that makes teachers hard to reach. Even when I reach them, a significant number just don't want to think about things like this until they are back in the school routine. So I have a growing list of follow up calls to make next month and beyond.

Since I apparently missed the entire month of July, I haven't written anything since Bob's mother and sister who live in Bryan, his brother from Texas, and his brother in Michigan and his family all came for Red, White & Boom. We had some company in the house for over a week, with the big concentration of them for 4th of July weekend. We had a wonderful time! I wish we had the chance to get together with big groups of the family like that more often. We did, really, when we were younger, but everyone is geographically scattered now and many of us have kids in school, so scheduling is tougher than it used to be. But it sure was worth it.

My sister's health problems remain undiagnosed, though she is now seeing a neruo-ophthamologist at OSU who is apparently somewhat "House"-like. Not in his temperament, fortunately, but in his ability to get to the root of problems other doctors haven't been able to diagnose. So we are pinning some hope on Dr. Katz actually diagnosing her problem and then solving it. She is nearly at the end of her sick pay from Kroger. She has filed paperwork to look into getting back on permanent disability (which it never made sense for her to be off of!) but so far all her doctors haven't responded to the requests for information, so that application is in limbo until they do. I worry about her physical and financial health, both. Anybody reading this who prays, your prayers would be appreciated.

Sam successfully completed Phys Ed and Health in summer school with an A in each. He is still finishing up his independent study in Algebra II, but he has been getting A's on all the tests in that, too. I couldn't be more proud of how hard he has worked this summer and the success he has accomplished. Now he's applying himself to trying to finish two merit badges for Scouts, which are the last requirements he needs to attain Life Scout rank. That is the last rank before Eagle, to which he still aspires. If he gets to Life by the end of the summer, then he will have about two years available to him to complete the very challenging Eagle Scout requirements. I believe he will make it.

So in general, life is good here at our house. I am once again gainfully and happily employed, Bob clips along in his usual sunny, successful manner, and Sam's life seems to be on a very positive trajectory. I will try not to let two months pass between posts next time!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Last night I had dinner with one of my oldest and dearest friends, and she scolded me gently for not posting. So here I am, contrite.

But I have been busy in very positive ways while I've been away. I have landed full-time employment, which will begin on July 15th. I will be selling retirement products to teachers and school employees. It is, essentially, self-employment, but I am affiliated with an existing agency that will provide marketing support, all the back-office servicing, etc. As I researched them I became convinced that this is a really good opportunity for me. The fact that they are behind me providing leads and other services makes me a lot less frightened about self-employment, but I still get the parts of it that are highly appealing to me. I set my own hours, I don't have to waste time every day in commuting or meaningless office "face time", and I can control my own success or failure pretty directly.

The first step in the process is getting the necessary licenses. I must have a life insurance license to start, and will eventually need a Series 6 securities license. I took an on-line insurance course and passed the live, proctored exam for it yesterday and have an appointment to take the licensing test early next week. Then I plan to start right in on the securities license. Even though I don't have to have it to start, I am convinced that I will feel a lot more comfortable talking with prospects if I know I can handle all their questions.

So for the past few weeks I've been spending my time sort of schizophrenically. I am still drawing unemployment and hope to do so until the new job actually starts, so I still have to comply with all its requirements. Every day I still search the job boards and make sure I apply for at least two jobs a week, as required. (It's not like doing so brought me a bunch of offers before -- I doubt it will do so in the remaining three weeks!) I'm also still writing for that subscription website, so several days a week I am working on those articles, too. Then finally, those two obligations fulfilled, I studied.

I should say, I studied when family obligations didn't impinge. My sister's search for a diagnosis continues and we average a trip to a different specialist every other week or so. Next week we see a neuro-opthamologist because the previous specialist suspects it is something in the major nerve of the eye at the root of the problem. Remember her in your thoughts and prayers, please.

Last week my mother went for a routine visit with her cardiologist, who sent her for a stress test. They called shortly thereafter and scheduled her for a cardiac catheterization. It occurred Wednesday, and they found two arteries blocked more than 80%. They immediately brought in another doctor who did angioplasty and placed a total of three stents in the two arteries. It was very serious, but less stressful than it might sound because it all happened so quickly. Mom is at home recovering nicely and she says she can definitely feel an improvement in her overall health. Amazing what blood circulating through the system will do!

This had the feel of more diary entry than blog post, but there has been so much going on that I felt the need to post it. Perhaps I can get here a little more often in the weeks ahead!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boy has it been embarrassingly long since I posted here! I have no wonderful excuse to share, either. It just happens.

Since the last time I wrote, we attended the college graduation of my niece and goddaughter, Heather. It was a wonderful experience and we were so very proud of her. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and I was thrilled that her father was able to join us, too. He couldn’t have been more gracious or more proud of his little girl. I know it meant the world to her that he was there.

Of course, she graduated into difficult times. She had hoped to go to graduate school but the only programs that accepted her were out of her price range. Her short-term plan is to stay for the summer at her state-funded job at a local museum. She expects funding to completely dry up by the end of September, and I honestly don’t think she has a clue what she is doing after that. I know she’s frightened about that, but she wasn’t saying much.

I shared with her the story of my graduation from college, just because I thought it might give her some comfort. I graduated in 1980 and the economy was in pretty sorry shape then, too. Inflation was high and so was unemployment. I earned a 3.8 GPA and couldn’t land a job to save my soul. I got so depressed, and so dreaded having to tell people I couldn’t find a job, that I virtually hid in the house all summer. Eventually I took a full-time clerical job at the hospital where I’d worked part-time in college. It was two years of menial, mind-numbing clerical work before my life began to take a turn for the better. After that things picked up dramatically; I have had a very fulfilling life and career since. I hope she can draw some hope from that.

I continue to seek that elusive new full-time position myself, but I have had at least a little new progress on my freelance business. For a few weeks now I’ve been writing one article a week for a subscription-based marketing website. It’s such a small gig that the income, though fair for the job, is insignificant. But it has had the beneficial effect of giving me at least one writing task to focus on with normal pressure to please an editor and meet a deadline. That has been very good for me. Not surprisingly, I’m beginning to get more ideas to pitch as articles elsewhere now that I have my juices flowing.

There are many changes afoot in our church, too. As most of my readers probably know, our church is an important part of Bob’s and my life. Both our Pastor (of 12 years) and our Director of Music Ministry (of 11 years) are leaving next month. So I’ve been involved in planning going away parties for both, and serving on the search committee for the new Director of Music Ministry. On the one hand, I’m not freaked out about this. It is completely normal within the ebb and flow of the life of any parish, and I’m really not alarmed or unduly concerned. On the other, the two moves together constitute a lot of change. With so much career uncertainty, there is a part of me that wishes church could remain a comfort zone. I guess I just have to rely on the Holy Spirit and believe that while things may feel different when we resume the normal schedule in the fall, they will be securely in the hands of the One who knows what we need.

I had an interesting interaction yesterday. I was at the high school helping with a PTA project and saw our neighbor, Rachel. Rachel was all over the news two years ago when some ill-adjusted guy thought she and her friends had trespassed on his property and responded by shooting their car. The girls had not trespassed nor done anything more than drive past the house a couple of times. Rachel was shot in the head and it was a miracle she survived. Two years later, she is still struggling to recover her mobility and memory. I saw her stepmother outside later in the day and though we don't really know each other, I stopped to tell her how uplifting it was to see Rachel at school and doing so well.

I could tell she really, really appreciated the comment. She shared that Rachel's dad is still struggling with letting go of the hopes and dreams he and Rachel had shared for her future. She went on to say that Rachel had always had a sweet, sunny disposition, and this injury did not rob her of that. Rachel continues to be optimistic about the future and generally look for the silver lining in the whole experience.

All that Rachel has overcome already is very inspiring, but to me that was the most inspiring of all. I always want to know what's coming, to be prepared, to be in control. That's why it was so hard for me to be unable to get a job right out of college, why the job hunt/freelance business development balance is so hard for me, and it's why the changes at my church are so unsettling. Rachel, on the other hand, is in a position where she truly has no control. And instead of fighting that, she manages to seek the beauty in each day. Now THAT's inspiration!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I’m suffering the attack of the killer allergies, and boy do I have the lethargy to prove it!

Central Ohio is generally known as allergy central. I have known many people whose doctors told them the best treatment for their allergies would be to simply move away. But I have lived almost my entire life in this area, and I didn’t really suffer any allergy symptoms until I was in my forties. Then I started having mild hay fever symptoms – nothing a little Claritin couldn’t handle.

Last spring, my body upped the ante. When the spring trees bloomed, so did my eyes. They swelled, turned a lovely shade of red and began to water profusely. I would wake in the morning unable to open them because of the thick layer of goop that had accumulated overnight. I went to the doctor and stepped up to Zyrtec. It took care of the other increased allergy symptoms, but didn’t seem to touch the eyes. Eventually my doctor prescribed both antihistamine eye drops and an antihistamine nasal spray, and using both of those with the Zyrtec I managed to get through the few weeks when the tree pollen was thick. Afterward, it seemed my base level had ratcheted up a notch. Claritin didn’t touch even my low-level symptoms. But as long as I took my daily Zyrtec, I was OK.

Well it’s tree pollen time again, and my eyes are at it again. I have worn contact lenses for 36 years and these two springtime allergy events are the only things that have ever kept me out of them. (My eye doctor always comments on what surprisingly healthy eyes I have for such a long-time contact wearer.) Today I wore my glasses all day. In the morning my eyes were literally running like a faucet, but it rained today and I think the pollen count improved when it did. Now my eyes don’t feel too bad, except that I have to pay attention or I will find myself rubbing them. They have just that low-level itch that makes me want to dig in them, but experience has taught me that they fell so much worse when I do!

The thing I’ve noticed – and the real reason I thought all this might be of interest to someone else – is that when one’s eyes are swollen and itchy, it is very difficult to feel one’s normal energy level and conduct one’s normal daily functions. I mean, it is really only one little part of my anatomy that is in discomfort, but WOW does it affect my overall productivity! I have had a hard time getting even the most basic chores done today. I think it’s because that whole itchy eye thing is a lot like what it feels like when I’m sleep-deprived, and my mind misinterprets it. Like it says, “Hmm, the sandman came through. Must be time for some shut-eye.”

Or at least, that’s my story – and I’m sticking to it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I’ve been having this strangely disorienting feeling about the “green movement” lately. Or, I guess more precisely, about where I am in life, and how this movement makes me feel.

I am 50 years old. (I still react like an alcoholic standing in front of the AA meeting every time I say that so bluntly. Take a deep breath and lay it out there, and then smile a little at the realization it’s OK to say!) When I was in the seventh grade, which would have been about 1972, I had a social studies teacher named Miss Sigfreid who made a big impression on me. She taught about ecology and the interdependence of everything on earth. She taught zero population growth. (I still don’t quite know how she got away with that in a public school!) She taught us to recycle and really imbedded in me the idea that taking care of the planet is just what the good guys do.

Over the years that message was reinforced in other places, and it really took root. I’m sure it didn’t hurt any that the energy crisis occurred during my senior year in high school, disrupting classes because they couldn’t heat our building. I remember learning about alternate energy sources in college, and forming the opinion around that same time that gas-guzzling cars were just icky. So as an adult, all that was always a part of my psyche. Even in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the economy was booming and energy was cheap and everyone in America except me, it seemed, fell in love with the SUV, that whole recycle-reuse-conserve consciousness was part of who I was.

Now, I was never flashy about it. You would have had to actually watch us to realize things were different at our house. My husband and I needed two bins to put out our recycling each week while most of our neighbors didn’t fill the one that they were provided, while our garbage can was half empty until neighbors would fill it with their overflow on collection night. We never owned an SUV or even a mini-van, and I tried to buy a hybrid in 2003 when I bought my most recent vehicle, though in the end I just couldn’t quite afford it. (I was coming off a car lease, so waiting while I saved a little more wasn’t an option.) We were using compact fluorescent light bulbs in our home years before the government decided to ruin a good idea by mandating it, and I wouldn’t know how to act in a house that was warmer than 65° overnight. We installed a programmable thermostat as soon as they became affordable and stopped heating our home much through the day when we were at work, too. And we run our air conditioner less than anyone in the neighborhood in the summer! It’s got to be pretty sticky before we turn it on. Day-in, day-out, lunches were carried in washable lunch boxes, gift boxes and bags were reused again and again…well, you get the idea.

And yeah, I did feel a wee bit smug about it. I’m entitled, aren’t I? After all, I wasn’t going to get any OTHER reward, so I might as well bask in a little self-satisfaction. It’s gratifying to do the right thing, and why not enjoy a little glow about it?

But today, I feel like I’ve been robbed of that reward. Suddenly it’s cool to be “green,” and I feel so unappreciated for my 35 or so years of good effort and commitment. The level of effort I put in during those long, lonely years when people mostly thought I was just odd is now merely the baseline. I mean, people are by-and-large embarrassed to do less than the things I’ve mentioned. The government is mandating the use of compact fluorescent bulbs even in places where they may not make sense; even those who love gas guzzling SUV’s are dumping them because gas prices went up to $4 a gallon last summer and we all know they will go there again. Programmable thermostats are commonplace, most of the neighbors now fill two bins of recycling, and reusable lunch boxes are more common than brown bags.

All those are really, really good things. I hate to sound like a whiner when talking about things that indicate our society is improving. There’s just this little, tiny voice in my head that says, “Hey, would it kill ‘em to give me an attagirl? A little tip of the hat to those of us who stayed faithful and slogged through the long years when ecology wasn’t cool?”

Sigh. I guess I have to let it go. And I have to let go of the umbrage I feel when I hear some of the more extreme “greenies” suggesting changes that are – well – extreme. (I’m pretty sure we should still bring babies into the world in spite of their carbon footprint, for example.) But hey, I’m 50 years old. The way I figure it, that means my life is probably around 60% over. Surely that buys me the right to be a little curmudgeonly, right?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Those who have followed this blog know that I tried hard to apply myself to the disciplines of Lent. My efforts weren’t perfect, but I think back to something our priest said the first Sunday of Lent: “If you get to the end of Lent and you are unchanged, then it was not a successful Lent. You should be able to notice a difference by the end.” By that standard, I think this was a successful Lent. I improved my prayer life, and I think I made great strides in trying to let go of my need to be in control and truly put my trust in God. These are very uncertain times in my life, but I can see a lifelong pattern of God taking good care of me. I know He will continue to do so now and in the future.

And now here we are at the end of Lent! Today starts the series of worship services the Catholic Church calls the Triduum. They are supposed to be viewed as one service, continued in three parts. The traditions are quite ancient, going back to the very beginnings of the church. Our choir will sing at all three services, and I find them quite beautiful. In fact, I’d have to say they are one of my favorite things about Catholicism.

Tonight's service is joyous in nature. It commemorates the last supper, with Jesus instituting communion. There is a ceremonial washing of feet, and all the ministers who help with communion in the church are officially "commissioned" for another year. It's all about community. (This year will hold a special treat for me because Sam went through the training and will be commissioned this year, too.)

Friday's service is just the opposite. It remembers the crucifixion and is very melancholy. In fact, at times it is more than melancholy – downright anguishing. It can be a difficult one to get through, but as a musician I have to note that the music is absolutely gorgeous. And of course, if you don't acknowledge how horrendous the crucifixion was, you can't fully grasp how amazing the resurrection was. There is no “closing” to this service, it just ends in silence and people file out to reflect. It is not a service I enjoy, exactly, but let’s say I appreciate it.

Then at Saturday's service we celebrate the empty tomb. The Mass doesn't start until it's dark outside, this year set for 9:00. It starts out at a bonfire where the Easter Candle is blessed, then the congregation lights candles and processes into the dark church. There are several Bible readings and psalms before finally the resurrection story is read and the lights are all brought up and from then on, everything is celebratory. New members who have been studying to join the Catholic Church come in at this Mass, so there are always baptisms and confirmations at it. At our parish we have a nine-piece orchestra accompanying us, which makes all the music seem special, even the routine mass parts and hymns. But we do some awesome special pieces, too. It is a Mass full of joy. I always leave it feeling great.

I don’t know whether I will blog again before Easter, so just in case I don’t, I wish all who read this a blessed and wonderful holiday. I think we all need a good immersion in Easter joy!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I've been having a great week so far! On Tuesday I took a vacation from being unemployed. Sam was away on his class trip to Chicago, and Bob took the day off work. We lazed around the house all morning, then went to the art museum in the afternoon. Late afternoon we watched a video at home, then we used a gift card we'd been keeping back for a special occasion to have a nice dinner out. It was a lot of fun -- kind of felt like playing hooky, which only made it more fun!

Today brought somewhat of a return to the mundane (sending out resumes), but I met my dear friend Jamie Sue for breakfast and we are going to begin lifting weights together a couple times a week. She is the most upbeat, energetic, positive person I have ever known, and I know it will be good for me to soak up some of her "Jamie Sue fairy dust" as I like to call it!

Then late tonight Sam returned home from his Chicago trip. He had a ball. I think the thing he enjoyed most was attending a performance of the Blue Man Group. It continues to be so satisfying to me to see him having such normal experiences. His middle school years were rough and we used to really wonder if he'd fit into society. Now, it's hard to imagine that we had those fears. He's a tad eccentric but not in any ways that are problematic.

One of Sam's eccentricities is that he wears his hair long. I don't mean soccer star long, I mean ZZ Top long. It currently reaches about the middle of his back. But he has recently agreed that in the interest of continuing to wear it long, it probably behooves him to get some inches trimmed off the bottom just to keep it healthy. So we have an appointment Thursday afternoon to get that done.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

In my most recent post, I promised something more upbeat next time around. As I sit down to write this I am looking out the window at a nearly perfect day with a blue sky and bright sunshine, so it certainly seems like I ought to be able to keep it cheery!

The thing that I’ve been most excited about lately is that my son, who is 15 years old and a Freshman in high school, has his first girlfriend. Friends have asked me if I like the young lady. It’s a little soon to say, really. I have only met her once, and that was before they became an item. I understand that she has had a pretty challenging life, with several stints in foster care, some abuse issues, a variety of different schools, etc. So on one level, she isn’t the girl I would have chosen for his first relationship. I just figure any kid who has been through all that stuff will have some issues, and in the best of all possible worlds I’d like him to have had a relationship without those challenges.

On the other hand, I am proud as can be of him because those things haven’t deterred him. I don’t think he likes her either because of her issues or in spite of them – I think he just likes her and accepts her exactly how she is. And he definitely DOES like her. It’s fun, as a mother, to see his face light up when he talks about her.

They haven’t had much opportunity to spend time together away from school yet. They just decided to “be girlfriend and boyfriend” a week ago, and kids’ lives are so structured and full that there hasn’t been any time for them other than telephone conversations since. But his spring break is about to begin, and I anticipate I will see more of her then.

On a completely different note, my mother-in-law returns from six weeks in Phoenix tonight. She has been staying with Bob’s brother Ric and attending the Cleveland Indians spring training games. We are all thrilled that she is finally getting to have some of those retirement experiences we all dream of. When she retired Bob’s dad was in bad health and she nursed him at home far longer than she should. Then when she finally moved him to a nursing home, she was there almost all the time. After he passed away it took another good year, I’d say, to get basic stuff caught up around the house and things cleaned out and to just get to the point where she finally feels like her time is her own. So at 80 years old, after a lifetime as an Indians fan, she finally got to go out to sunny Phoenix and be a bleacher bum for a while.

After six weeks on the road I had assumed that she would want to get right home and pick up the pieces of her life. I assumed wrong. Bob’s nice Paige turns 7 tomorrow, and Mom Beasley is sticking around Columbus through the weekend to celebrate Paige’s birthday. I don’t really know what all the plans are, but it looks like it is going to be a very Beasley weekend for me!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I spent most of last week running around ferrying my sister and mother to various doctor's appointments. The good news is, we think we have a diagnosis for Patty! It appears that she is suffering from temporal arteritis. That means that the big artery that comes off the carotid artery, up her left temple and on across to various parts of her head, has become inflamed and stopped pumping the blood correctly. Thus the places it serves, which includes the optic nerve, are not getting proper bloodflow, and it is the oxygen deprivation this causes that is causing the pain. She had a biopsy done on the temporal artery on Thursday and we are still waiting for the formal results to come back. But we really, really expect it to confirm the diagnosis. They went ahead and started her on steroids, which is the treatment, and she is experiencing some relief already.

She is really fortunate because if left untreated, this could have caused permanent blindness in her left eye. I wonder how long it has to go untreated for that to happen, though -- she had this headache with increasing frequency over a period of months and then constantly, without a minute'e relief, for over three weeks.

Of course, devoting a couple of weeks primarily to these extended family concerns has completely upset the delicate balance I had struck in how I spend my days and how I manage my job search and my emotional state. I still find very few viable opportunities to pursue. That said, though, I went on a job interview yesterday. It was the first one I've had since January. The job isn't one I would normally have pursued, but after interviewing with them I am still interested if they are. (I don't have extremely high hopes because it is outside my real area of experience. I have to suspect they can find better qualified candidates out there. But if they are interested in taking a chance on me, I'm still interested!)

I had this weird, awkward, sort of painful interaction with my sister on Friday. I have always wanted to write and in fact have always written, just not for paid publication. Looking back, probably my greatest regret in life is that I let myself become convinced during college that I couldn't afford to pursue writing as a career, and went off to study other more "marketable" things. My sister, on the other hand, was always interested in arts and crafts and animals and lots of non-bookish things. She is dyslexic and therefore did badly in school, so her focus was just completely different.

Now, she's developed an interest in writing. She's joined a little writers' group there in Zanesville and writes stories for fun. She's imaginative and thinks up cute ideas, but the whole dyslexia thing comes to play in the process of translating them to writing. So her clever ideas get sort of drowned in a sea of bad spelling and syntax errors. This development has always made me uncomfortable. Not that she's writing, just when she talks with me about it. I can tell she has no idea how much I've wanted to write and how disappointed I am in myself that I haven't written more, and been published. So Friday, she tells me while I'm unemployed I ought to write a book.

There I stood with my sick sister, knowing she has just spent the better part of a month in constant pain. I know she means this as an encouraging statement. I know her motives are purely positive. And yet it took all my strength not to burst into tears. I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. Does she think I haven't thought of that? Does she think I don't feel like the biggest failure in the world because during this period where I've had huge blocks of available time I feel like every ounce of creativity I ever had has escaped? I haven't even been able to thumbnail a plot for a short story. I can't even come up with the core kernel of a plotline. There are days it takes all my discipline just to write something, anything for this blog!

And even though I know this is irrational and unfair, I also had a bit of a feeling of "How dare she?" How dare she talk to me about writing a book like she knows more about it than I do? How dare she imply that she and I are on the same plane about this? I'm ashamed of myself for feeling that way, but in all honesty, I do. It was one of the most awkward, difficult moments I've ever had with her. I just sort of froze up and didn't say anything, and after a few minutes she sort of got the hint and moved on to another subject. But I know she has no idea why I reacted the way I did, or what I was really feeling. I didn't feel like I could explain it to her, even after some time had passed, because there's no way to do so without admitting that I don't have much respect for the stuff she writes. And while I don't have respect for the writing, I have a great deal of respect for the fact that she puts herself out there. I just don't want her to do it in front of me, or to try to tell me how I should be going about it.

So there's my sad and sordid tale of family life. Tomorrow, I write about something more upbeat!

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm continuing in my Lenten theme. As some of you know, I used to do a daily meditation blog in Lent and I guess I still feel a strong motivation in that direction.

Yesterday, the sermon I heard was based on the Ten Commandments. The Pastor talked about how it's too bad we've come to view discipline as a negative word, when in fact it is very positive. He talked about how parents of small children have to discipline them to protect them from exploring things that would hurt them, and indeed it is a LACK of discipline that is the unloving response.

As he went on about the positive nature of discipline in our lives, and how we tend to be much happier when there is discipline in our life than when there is not, I had one of those "aha" moments. I have always been a person who has to struggle with her weight -- it fluctuates as much as 15 pounds, and hardly ever stays where I want it for very long at a time. My moment of insight was that I should learn to pay better attention to what's happening with my weight not out of vanity or concern about my weight per se, but because my weight going up almost always signals an overall loss of discipline in my life.

When I am exercising properly and being mindful about what I eat (not dieting, just paying attention and self-monitoring) I am usually also praying on a regular basis, reaching out to other people, taking appropriate steps for my career -- in general, living a disciplined existence. But usually by the time I realize I have put on 10 or 15 pounds, I look around and realize that I have fallen into self-indulgence and inertia in other areas of my life, too. For example, though I didn't lose my job until the beginning of October, I realize now that I started putting on weight around July or August. Realistically, I think there were signs that things were going badly at that time, and since I didn't know how to fix them, I reacted in a general breakdown of good habits.

I hope I can hang onto this insight! I see it as beneficial in two ways. First, it is another great motivator to not allow myself to wander off the straight and narrow of exercise and eating right. Second, I really believe that if I pay attention, this will be an early warning signal that allows me to turn the tide before things really go wrong.

It is an interesting Lent for me. I have been continuing to read the books about prayer that I mentioned, and I feel like they are helping me focus my efforts. I am not increasing my prayer time as much as I'd like, but I have definitely increased it some, and increased the quality. I think I have a greater awareness of the need for prayer and the little opportunities that present themselves every day.

On the other hand, I am constantly running, helping my mother and sister while keeping my family running. And the lack of a job remains a spiritual struggle as well as an economic one. God is generously providing for us and I have no reason to fear that we will really suffer for months yet, if ever. And I believe that when the time is right, God will lead me to the right opportunity. I know that I just need to stay open to the possibilities and eventually, the right thing will fall in place. But I have moments -- OK, sometimes days -- where it is very difficult to keep that faith. I fall into fret and worry and what-if and why-didn't-I and all the rest of those boogeymen of the mind.

Tonight I travel to Zanesville to stay at least two nights, as my mom has her second cataract surgery tomorrow, with a follow-up visit to the surgeon Wednesday morning. And by now, my sister's neurologist should have the results of Friday's MRI, so I hope we can get an appointment scheduled to follow up on that. So I don't know how many days it will be before I can post again. I just ask that if you read this, please send out a little prayer for my mom and sis and for my safe travels.

Monday, March 09, 2009

My mother has lived with my sister, who is single, for a little over 20 years. My mom is now 84 years old and her health and strength are slipping, so Patty has increasingly taken on the role of caregiver for our mother. I have tried to help out here and there, but clearly, the largest burden has fallen to her.

The weekend before last, my sister thought she had a migraine headache. She didn’t have a history of them, though she had been having more routine headaches a lot for about the past three months. Over a few days time, the headache didn’t get better, but became much more localized around her eyes. She also found that her balance is off, and fell down at home several times. Once she realized she could not safely go to work (in the deli at Kroger) she called her doctor. He was on vacation, but she was seen by someone else in his office.

My sister has a long history of health problems of her own. In a way, I always believed that was one reason she and my mother living together worked out so well. Mom didn’t feel like she was being a burden because often my sister needed her help, too. I mention that because it explains why she was already the patient of a neurologist.

Jumping forward to spare all the tedious details, an MRI was run that may or may not have shown a spot on her brain; we don’t know because they ran it without color contrast, which is apparently pretty essential in a brain scan. She has been sent to an ophthalmologist, who has determined that her eyes are not the cause of the problem. He said her eyes themselves are fine and he can tell her that there is not an increase of pressure on her brain, as he would have been able to detect that. Her neurologist is waiting for the color contrast version of the MRI to figure out what it tells us about her brain. And Patty is at home, unable to drive and barely able to walk around without falling into a wall.

Thus it is that this morning I drove to Zanesville (a little over an hour’s drive from my home) to take her to one doctor’s appointment and expect to be back there on Wednesday to take my mom to a doctor and on Friday to take Patty to have the MRI done. Unless someone cancels and they can schedule her MRI sooner, or something else changes.

I’m really worried about my sister. She looks very ill. Her eyes have that sunken look people get when they dehydrate, and the left one seems partially closed. She literally cannot walk down a hall without staggering. I also noticed that her short-term memory seemed worse than usual, and she had trouble coming up with the word she wanted as she talked. She reports that when the episodes of headache get bad (which occurs more than once daily now) she often sees flashes of colored light. She is very light sensitive, too.

I hate even putting this fear into words, but I am so afraid that we are dealing with a brain tumor! She is a breast cancer survivor. About ten years later it metastasized into her bones, but they were able to beat it into remission with radiation. It has been about another ten years since then, so I feel like a tumor is not an unreasonable thought.

Of course, she has had a seizure disorder for years, too, which is somewhat of a wildcard. We never really knew what caused that. Whatever it is could be at the root of these episodes, too. And as always in these medical situations, the not-knowing is the very worst part. Without information, we tend to imagine the worst.

The fact that Patty is our mother’s caregiver makes it particularly problematic. Even a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been so dire because they had a circle of close friends like most of us do who would have provided some transportation and support. But in just the last two years, probably, they have been plagued with the deaths and moves to warmer climates of many of their closest neighbors and friends. At this point, they are feeling pretty alone in the city of Zanesville.

It is fortuitous, really, that I am unemployed at this moment and can make frequent trips down there to help them. But they both feel bad about it and I can’t seem to completely convince them to look at it as a blessing of timing. And I suspect that if I stay on this frequent a commuting schedule, I may begin to have trouble seeing the blessing in it, too, after a while. That said, though, I am at the moment very grateful that I am able to be of some help.

I ask my readers to pray for Patty and for the whole family. Prayer makes a difference – and we need it right now!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I don’t mean to turn my blog into just a book review, but I have been sitting down to it each day after my period of reading and prayer, so it has been leaning in that direction. Let me just share three key quotes from the chapter I read today:

“The formative power of God within us urges us to form ourselves in his likeness. We are impelled by this Divine Form to seek wholeness and holiness of life. Peace-filled joy, the blessed life, is the birthright of the Christian.”

“Each of us is called to be a unique manifestation of the glory of God, unique and yet in harmony with the overall divine direction of universe and history.”

“Peace of mind is the healthy and natural state God created humanity to enjoy.”

I found all three of those statements deeply comforting and inspiring. And somehow, they just seem true. I don’t think God means for us to be miserable all the time, to be consumed by hustle and bustle and the shallow pursuits of the world. I think – no, I feel – that he really does want us each to be a manifestation of his glory.

It was a well-timed reading for me, because I have been ruminating on how I feel I have lost something essential about myself in recent years. There were quite a few years where I had a strong sense of identity and purpose. Looking back I think it may have been a little too tied up in my professional life, but at least back then I didn’t doubt who I was. For the past decade or so it feels like my time has been so compressed, the various roles of my life so demanding, that I have been feeling less “whole” than I used to. But at some level I think this is a growth period for me, and there’s something I’m supposed to learn from where I am at this very moment. So I’ll keep plugging away at the reading and the prayer and the blogging and see where it leads!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Today I started reading Practicing the Prayer of Presence. There was one passage in the preface that really spoke to me: “Prayer is many things, yet it is one: It is the soaring of the human spirit to meet and be with the Spirit of God.”

I think maybe the reason that really touched me was that it ties together all the different things that we can mean when we talk about prayer. As the author had just covered in the book, we know prayer to be petitioning God for help for ourselves for others, we know it as just talking to God as we live our lives, we know it as reciting poetic words that we have been taught to communicate with God, we know it as sitting in silence and as experiencing God in nature. The word prayer can cover all those different things and more – and that definition makes it all make sense. Anything is prayer if it evokes the soaring of our spirit to be with the Spirit of God.

To some extent, I’ve always been a prayerful person. I don’t mean that as any kind of boast – it is just something I have always felt drawn to. When I was very young, when my family wasn’t really active in a church, I found my mother’s prayer book she had received at Confirmation and was fascinated by it. I used to pray those prayers all by myself when I was 9 or 10 years old. I tend to do a lot of “talking to God as I do my daily tasks,” and over the years I developed a strong discipline of praying for those around me. People who know me well always give me prayer requests because they know I actually do something about them. But I had never understood it in this way before.

Yet as soon as I read that passage, it rang true. That’s why I have always liked to pray – because I love that feeling of my spirit meeting with the Spirit of God.

I figure it is no coincidence that I found this Lenten discipline this year. Being unemployed, I am filled with a confusing array of emotions about life in general. I really don't know where I will land or how I will hold up my end of providing for my family if I haven't found something by the time the unemployment runs out. When I allow myself, I can become quite frightened and worry a lot. I know that when one is job hunting one should exude confidence and hope, but instead I find myself riddled with self-doubt. What a blessing it is to do something every day that lifts me up, draws me closer to God and affirms me.

The Lord works in mysterious ways; blessed are the ways of the Lord!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I think it was a good choice to follow a different discipline this Lent. I don't have the same sense of drudgery I had begun to develop about the daily lectionary, which I had done annually for several years.

I ended up starting with the book Finding Grace at the Center -- The Beginning of Centering Prayer. It was a good choice. It's a small book -- just a collection of four essays with a little forward and summary, really. But it spells out how to go about a Christian form of prayer that is similar to Transcendental Meditation.

So today, for the first time, I tried to actually apply it. My success was limited. The book recommends that you set aside at least 20 minutes for this type of prayer. In fact, it says "Less than this hardly gives one a chance to get fully into the prayer and be wholly refreshed." But I found at the end of my first attempt that it had consumed all of five minutes. Still, I did feel that for a period there, I had brought my mind to a more relaxed, peaceful state. So I assume the rest will come gradually, with practice. I suspect I got the beginning and end right and shortchanged the middle. (Arguably, the most important part.)

I reviewed the rest of the books again this afternoon, deciding which one to read next. I think I'm going to turn next to Practicing the Prayer of Presence, though I think I will intersperse it with The World According to Mister Rogers. I think the former will be more of the kind of thing I found in the first book, while I think the Mister Rogers book will be stimulating in a whole different way.

I'm not sure if I will ever get around to the other books I had pulled out. The more I look at them, the more academic they seem. I can sort of remember being the cerebral, grad-school kinda girl who got heavily into that sort of deep philosophical navel-gazing, but I don't know that they actually speak to me now. I find at age 50 I am less cerebral but also less arrogant; there have been a lot of trade-offs in how how I view the world, and I don't think I want to work as hard as those books would make me work when I'm not convinced the benefit is there.

As my readers mostly know, I have a son who is 15 years old. At times now I hear him wrestling with philosophical, cosmological and theological issues that used to interest me. My first instinct is to sort of brush it off, to tell him it's not worth the energy he is putting into it. But I have to stop and remind myself that at 15 (and 20 and 25, even) one must work through some of those things. I can't expect him to view the world from my 50-year-old perspective. I have become increasingly a conflict-avoider; I've learned to make ideological compromises that let me sleep at night. He's still ready to fight the universe over inequities and injustices and to rail against inconsistencies in logic and belief. And that is exactly as it should be.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

So far, this is proving to be a different and interesting Lent for me. As I said in an earlier post, I am abandoning my practice in recent years of studying the lectionary and doing a daily blog post on that. Instead, I am doing some focused reading, trying to improve my prayer life, and doing some volunteer work.

Yesterday, I started the volunteer work with a shift at the soup kitchen at Holy Family Parish in downtown Columbus. It was an interesting experience, somewhat different than I had anticipated.

One thing that made it different than my expectations was that they had PLENTY of volunteers. One of the area Catholic high schools had a group there, a college sorority had sent girls, and there were some confirmation students from a local Catholic elementary school. I didn’t serve food to anyone. Instead, I spent my time with a dishtowel in my hand, drying cookware and serving trays as they were emptied and then washed by another lady who had come from our church.

In some ways, I think that worked out very well. It’s hard to self-aggrandize as you’re drying dishes. There was no opportunity to pat myself on the back or feel better than I deserved to about what I was doing. I just kept drying things and putting them away.

About 200 guests were served lunch. The food was mostly donated by area restaurants, and while it certainly represented an interesting mish-mash of dishes, for the most part it looked appetizing. The guests ranged from looking like one’s stereotype of homeless street people to looking pretty much like me.

For my Lenten reading, I decided to start with Finding Grace at the Center -- The Beginning of Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating and Thomas E. Clarke. It is pretty interesting so far. It teaches a method of praying that is very similar to Transcendental Meditation and similar Eastern traditions, but is deeply founded in Catholic prayer tradition. I haven’t tried actually applying it yet. By the time I was home with the time to try it yesterday, I was pretty sure I’d fall asleep if I got into the relaxed state it requires. So I read some more, but have not yet actually tried it.

All in all, I continue to work on living in the present and finding the right balance of actively seeking work without allowing the pursuit to consume me. This was a good week. Let’s hope for more of those!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Here it is, Lent again. For several years now I have done a separate blog through Lent, focusing on the daily readings. But I've decided to take this year off from that. I was finding that with each passing year, it was less of a spiritual exercise and more of an exercise in endurance . That was certainly not the point, so I think I'm better off pursuing a different Lenten discipline this time.

I had already committed to some quiet prayer time each day, but I wanted to do some reading, too. So I went to the web to search for suggestions. I found many, but not many that appealed to me. Then I suppose the Spirit must have spoken to me -- because I realized I have some very good books on my own bookshelf that I have either never read or haven't read in a long time. I pulled out the following five books (most of them small) and hope to read some or all of them this Lent.

  • Honest to God by John A.T. Robinson
  • Finding Grace at the Center -- The Beginning of Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating and Thomas E. Clarke
  • Practicing the Prayer of Presence by Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam
  • The Other Side of Silence - A Guide to Christian Meditation by Morton T. Kelsey
  • The World According to Mister Rogers -- Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers

OK, I notice that the fifth entry seems a little different. But somehow, it spoke to me just like the first four did.

Perhaps reading these will provide me with some fodder for blog posts, as well. But even if they don't, I figure they should provide some nourishment for both my brain and my soul. I really want to use this time well this year!

Friday, February 20, 2009

This sounds a tiny bit silly to my own ears, but I have come to realize that the biggest problem with my no-longer-employed-fulltime life is that I'm lonely! I send my husband and son off in the morning and I have enough of a routine that I usually stay marching through things up until lunchtime, but from about 12:30 until my son's bus brings him back at 3:30, I really struggle with loneliness!

I'm pretty sure this is a self-induced injury. After all, I know there are tons of other people out there out of work, so it's not like there is no one I can call. Or for that matter, there are probably many at work who wouldn't mind my call. But somehow, I feel that I've lost the art of the casual, friendly call to chat. I am reminded of the scene in one of the last episodes of The West Wing where the character C.J. Craig opines that she has missed the window for buildng a relationship. I have that significant relationship, but I feel as though I've forgotten how to have or be a friend. There were so many years where fulfilling my obligations as employee, wife and mother consumed all my time that I got out of practice at just being a friend.

A friend of mine who called me the other day suggested that I take on some sort of volunteer activity while I'm unemployed. My first reaction was not enthusiastic. I believe strongly in volunteering and have done so in many capapacities over the years, but my first reaction was that volunteering never seems to actually be free. There always seem to be meetings where you are expected to buy your breakfast or lunch, or things where you need to drive all over town burning your gas, or something like that. And right now we are watching pennies that closely.

But upon further reflection, I think Ann (the friend on the phone) may have been onto something. I saw the other day that our church is sending a group of workers to an inner city soup kitchen to work the lunch shift every Friday for Lent. I'm thinking I may try to go join that effort. I figure it would have the double benefit of getting me out interacting with humans AND reminding me that I'm really not that bad off. And obviously, the work would be worthwhile. I also figure if a group is carpooling down there, the financial cost to me to participate really would be darned close to zero!

I haven't posted in a while, I know. I think it is safe to say that for a while there I put too much pressure on myself to write something really, really good and worthwhile, and thus ended up blocked from writing at all. I still hope to raise the bar and make this less a personal journal and more a collection of essays and reflections worthy of publishing. But in the interim, I think writing is healthier than not writing.

My 84-year old mother had a cataract removed earlier this week. The surgery was blissfully uneventful and she is recovering nicely, but surgery day did start with some drama. She was due at the surgery center at 7:00, so I went and stayed the night with her and my sister. We got up that morning and walked out the door at 6:30. I wanted to grab a pencil out of my car for use on crossword puzzles in the waiting room. As I sat in my car sifting through the collection of writing instruments, I thought I heard my sister yell. But I sort of doubted my own ears. After all, it was 6:30 a.m. What's to yell about?

I got out of the car and immediately saw the answer. She was kneeling by my mother on the ground. Mom had somehow fallen on the short was from the front porch to the carport where my sister's car was waiting. She hit her head pretty hard, and her glasses were forced into her right eye with enough force that it opened a gouge on her eyelid. Of course, the eye she landed on was the one she was scheduled to have surgery on. We got her into the car and drove to the surgery center, all three silently fearing that they would cancel the surgery.

As we got out of the car we realized she had scraped up her hands pretty badly in the fall, too. We signed her in and explained the situation. The nurses there were very kind, and immediately took us to an examining room where one of them cleaned up her scraped hands and put gauze bandages on them. She expressed doubt about whether the doctor would want to go on with the surgery, too. But as soon as he arrived in the building they sent him in, and after looking at her eyelid he said, "Sure, we can still do it. And if she gets a little black and blue around the eye, we can blame it on the fall instead of on me this time."

We were very relieved, and as I said, the surgery went like clockwork after that. She has been back to him for her first post-operative exam already, and she goes again next week. My sister tells me the bruises have bloomed into full technicolor glory, but there is obviously no real harm done.

I must say, it feels good to be writing again!

Monday, February 02, 2009

It has been far too long since I’ve posted here. I’m trying to make a fresh start, and to post things that aren’t just diary entries but truly musings about the world at large. Of course, right now the world at large is looking pretty interesting.

As a 50-year-old woman, I’ve lived through a few things. I graduated from college with highest a 3.8 GPA in 1980 and couldn’t find a job to save my life because the economy was in such bad shape. I remember hiding in my house because I was embarrassed to go out and run into people and have to confess that no, I still didn’t have a job using my degree. I worked in dead-end jobs until the fall of 1982, when I entered graduate school. I earned my Master’s degree in 1984 and my career took a much brighter turn thereafter – thanks in no small part to the recovery of the economy.

In the 1990’s I changed jobs several times, convinced by the prevailing ethos that this was the way smart people leveraged their successes. And to some extent, it worked – by the end of the 1990’s I was earning a really good salary and our prospects looked bright. But the company with which I was earning that salary was a technology firm, and when the tech bubble burst in early 2001, I was one of those left unemployed. It took me six months to find a new job, and it was at about 20% less money.

But like most people, we made the adjustments we had to make and got on with the business of living. We wised up and decided not to keep buying larger houses, but to settle into the one we had and call it both home and investment for the time being. We were able to refinance for lower interest rates a couple times, so even now we are paying a very affordable mortgage.

During the period since our last refi, I have been offered even lower rates at times, but they were always variable rate mortgages. When I would demur, explaining that I remembered when mortgage rates were in the double digits, the friendly telemarketers always seemed surprised. One even asked me, “You don’t actually think we will ever see high rates like that again, do you?” Well, yes. I did think so and I still think so, though admittedly the current crisis does mean we won’t see them anytime soon. Still, I am grateful that I didn’t fall into that trap. We are very happy with our 5 3/8% interest rate and our substantial equity, thank you very much.

Now, I am unemployed again. On the one hand, I will confess that I am truly frightened – as I said, I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I have never seen an economic situation quite like this one. Every day the papers carry announcements of thousands of job losses. Where will we all find new work? I have interviewed for some positions I would be thrilled to get that constitute ANOTHER 20% pay cut. I would be thrilled to get them because the work is agreeable, the companies stable and well respected, and it would mean I could count on drawing a paycheck every week. Stability looks very, very appealing to me just now. And while the pay cut hurts, I know we could make the necessary adjustments. It beats continuing to live on unemployment!

On the other hand, when I set my personal unemployment issues aside, I am not as fearful for the overall economy as some seem to be. I know we are in very difficult times, and I know that it is devastating for some individuals. (Hence my fears for myself.) But I believe overall, we will come through this with the economy and standard of living in the country largely intact. I think we are creating some new headaches that will plague our children and grandchildren, but I don’t think they will be insurmountable.

So that’s where I sit right now. Personally, pretty scared. Globally, cautiously optimistic. I hope the two parties eventually come together to try to make the economic stimulus plan the best it can be. I don’t think it is there yet. And then, I hope it works. And in the meantime, I hope I can return to full-time employment to watch it all play out from a less fearful vantage point!

Monday, January 05, 2009

If anyone had told me that one of the nicest vacations in my life would occur
a.) when I was unemployed, thus with nothing to actually take a vacation from; and
b.) almost exclusively in my own home;
I would have said they were crazy.

But that is exactly what happened! I just had two of the most pleasant weeks of my life. I scaled back my job search efforts to the minimum required to maintain unemployment compensation, my son was out of school and my husband took the time off work. We just hung out together and did a lot of nothing, and it was GREAT!

I have spent the last three months working to get my freelance writing business off the ground and simultaneously looking for a new full-time position. (At first I thought I'd try to transition into full-time freelancing and just did the job searching to maintain my unemployment eligibility. Over time, though, I came to realize that until my son graduates from college -- and he's only a high school freshman today -- I need the stable cash flow that full-time employment provides. So my mission has evolved to developing a healthy freelancing business as a second-income that I can grow to a primary income a decade or so down the road.) I actually work very hard every day at both endeavors -- the job search and trying to build my freelance business -- but I have to admit, in retrospect, I was doing all that hard work under the cloud of depression. Now, I think I have shaken that off.

I'm sure it didn't hurt any that the day before this "vacation" began, I had a job interview for a position that I am still very hopeful about. It was encouraging just to be called in, of course, but I actually think I would like the job a lot. The interviewer made it clear that after that interview, she would be taking some time off for the holidays, so I didn't expect to hear anything until this week at the very earliest. That allowed me to savor the positive feeling of hope about future employment through the whole vacation.

The first week was largely full of the hustle and bustle of our family's Christmas traditions. No one had done any early shopping to speak of, so we all were finishing that through December 23rd. Then on Christmas Eve my son sang in a teen choir at one Mass while Bob and I sang at two others, so there was a lot of energy in all that. And while some years I might find my mind wandering or feel exhausted by it or whatever, I found the services really uplifting this year. Then Christmas day involved a trip to my mother's home in Zanesville, followed by a trip to Bob's family home in Bryan, Ohio the 26th through the 28th. He has a large family and their holiday observation almost always gives me a lift. Even for them, though, this year's gathering was especially drama-free. (And that's definitely a good thing! Where there are eight siblings with spouses and children and now grandchildren, there is lots of opportunity for drama!)

The second week was even better, as unlikely as that seems! We slept in blissfully late every day, puttered around the house, and watched DVDs we had received for Christmas. (I got a set of the early seasons of the British TV series Midsomer Murders, which used to be shown here on A&E and the Biography Channel. Imagine our delight when we found that the episodes we had seen here in the US had been edited for length, so every single one contains scenes we've never seen before!)

Kind of our last hurrah was a trip to the Lennox Cinema to see Frost/Nixon. First of all, I was proud and pleased that I have a 15-year-old who chose that movie. (A sad observation: there were almost NO young people in the theater, though it was as packed as any I've been in for a long time. The audience members mostly looked like they had lived through the real events, as Bob and I had.) The movie is WONDERFUL. It is almost creepy how well Frank Langella channels Richard Nixon. So we've had numerous historical discussions in which we tried to put the Nixon presidency into some kind of perspective for Sam. What fun.

Today, Bob is back to work, Sam is back to school, and I am back to searching for job opportunities, both full-time and freelance. But I definitely come back to it feeling energized, renewed, and with a fresh outlook. No matter how rough 2008 was, we ended it in good health and still much better off than many people. All three of us truly enjoy each other's company and if that isn't something to celebrate, I don't know what is! I am filled with hope that 2009 will continue the positive trends in our lives and bring the financial stability we need, as well.