No Pity Parties Allowed

Hmmm,  turning the big 50 - 2010!

Hmmm, turning the big 50. Spring 2010

A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with a charming and remarkable woman. Not afraid to tell me her age, Dolores at 71 has vibrant energy, a positive attitude, and an enviable fitness level . Four years ago, she completely relocated from upstate New York to Boise to live closer to family.

Rather ashamed to admit the following, but here it goes. I confess I conducted a hasty assessment of her.

A lovely, petite woman, with a quiet demeanor and yet an enthusiastic drive for community involvement, my ignorant mind still categorized her existence into one of a “nice older woman.”  I did not immediately consider the full significance of her life, the people she influenced, or what career she had pursued.

I doubt Dolores was aware of the conversation going on inside my mind,  but I knew I had unfairly categorized her, made assumptions, and trivialized her life.  I did the very thing that I have a fear of people doing to me as I grow older.

Periodically, I battle my own struggles with feeling invisible and irrelevant as a middle-aged woman. Divorced now for five years, I confront loneliness and often feel disconnected from community.

While still married and raising my girls, I worked full-time, pursued a Master’s Degree, volunteered with several non-profits, and stayed involved in all of our daughter’s activities. I even tried my hand at coaching Y-ball, though I knew nothing about basketball. I attended at least 98 percent of all concerts, plays, dance recitals, presentations, and parent meetings. When the girls graduated from high school, an immediate separation occurred from a long time community forged through my daughters. Life shifted, empty nest syndrome settled in, and divorce put me into a curious category I had not planned for.

I paused and decided to take the time and probe, “Dolores, tell me about yourself please, unless you don’t want to.”

With a tilt of her head and smile she began to weave her stories. Dolores’ life unfolded like an accordion and played to the tune of over 15 geographic moves that supported her ex husband’s academic profession.  Dolores forged her own successful research career in the medical field, and she has a long history of activism. She continues to volunteer with community projects working to improve the lives of others.

Then she raised her voice a bit and blurted, “Look, I spent my whole life building community and supporting others so I would always be surrounded by people and not be alone. First a divorce, then my second husband’s death, and my children grown and moved away changed everything. Sometimes I wonder why I put so much energy into all of that and confess I struggle to feel relevant as I age.”

A brief silence, I chuckled to myself, and we exchanged sparkly smiles acknowledging our kindred spirit status. The struggle to feel relevant, that we matter, and are useful as we grow old.

Then she burst into a brilliant fit of laughter and exclaimed, “Hey no pity parties here, we stay in the game and keep trying to make a difference! Even though at times we feel kicked to the outer limits and life does not line up as neatly as we imagined, we forge ahead and create new communities.”

Turning 50 2

Leaving Snowgoose Way

98565909-01-altI bought a house in Meridian, Idaho five years ago, 2009 – rather a risky time to buy a home as the trajectory of the economy continued to descend. It was an out of character move that confounded many of my friends.  Not only for the location, but for the three car garage that was an astounding acquisition.  At approximately 825 square feet, it could easily be an apartment.

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Before I painted the walls.

Nonetheless, I stubbornly forged ahead, established a five-year plan to stay in the house, practice my handywoman skills, hope for an improved economy, and then sell.  I planned to use the money from the sale to buy a small cottage on the Washington coast.

As the economic downturn continued into a recession, near depression status, and the housing market bottomed out lower than expected, my five years turned to a ten-year plan. At times I wondered if I would ever get out of the house, perhaps stuck for a long time, and simply hoped to break even.

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Yes, I painted the wall blue!

However, surprisingly, at the five-year mark an improved, robust market began to emerge.  I was ready to sell and live in something smaller with less maintenance.  I wanted to use my time and money to travel, spend time with friends and family.

The process began with clearing everything out of the house to refurbish it with fresh paint and carpet.  Potential buyers could see the house clean and empty. Part of the task list involved finding a  home for ten-year old Miss Cleo cat, a stressful and sad situation that thankfully ended well.  After that ordeal, I vowed at some point in time to either foster older cats or try to take them on as pets.

During my five years on Snowgoose Way, I packed the time with people and new activities. One daughter lived with me for a couple of years, and the other came and went as she finished college.   Snowgoose saw several friends come and go as they transitioned to new lives. I hosted parties, and had family dinners over the holidays. My older daughter brought friends from college one summer, and they practiced acroyoga yoga in the yard.30843_10150201499000557_7159893_n

Locally I joined a community garden group that started behind the back of a church, and later moved to a large plot in Kleiner Park.  I learned how to grow food and enjoyed eating freshly picked cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, kale, red potatoes.  The first year I spent hours in the garden.  After work, I headed to Kleiner park to water and weed in the hot evening summer air.  Each night the broad horizon graced the sky with extraordinary shows of spectacular sunsets.

I had dreams of playing the piano again and for the first year practiced each day for at least 20 minutes, but that discipline fell by the wayside.  Instead, at a friend’s urging, I rekindle a long time dream of learning to play the banjo. The house endured endless hours of practice.

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Returned to a lovely beige color.

I remained in the house during the painting so I could attend to yard projects.  Daily I would arrive home and find walls that I had painted with my unique colors turned to lovely neutral beige.  Gradually I felt my personality leave the house. A good friend suggested I spend solitary time in the house to say goodbye, and while I smiled at the suggestion, inwardly I scoffed.  It turned out she was right.   Alone in a quiet house, I paused to enjoy the empty, simple, clutter free existence, honor the memories, and gave thanks for five years of beautiful shelter.

To PhD or not to PhD, Part 1:

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From The Scribe, Boise State University, Department of History

May 2008, I graduated with a Master in Public Administration in a thrilling ceremony that began with my family gathered around and a breakfast of donuts. Once seated, bagpipes played, former NASA Astronaut Barbara Morgan spoke, and Gabriel’s Oboe performed for the closing music. I felt a surge of accomplishment, pride and had no doubt that I would pursue a PhD.

Several of my MPA colleagues planned to enjoy the year break and then apply to the PhD. in Public Policy and Administration program scheduled to begin fall 2010. We knew a strict and competitive application process existed. We remained optimistic and looked forward to the honor of being the first cohort through the program. The Boise State fall 2007 FOCUS magazine wrote a story about me as being a great candidate for the program. (p. 26)

However, circumstances beyond our control altered those plans. As the University, with the rest of the nation, navigated a rough economic crash and budgets cuts, the program went into hibernation. The years passed with attempts by dedicated faculty to reactivate the program. During that time, my friends and I lost momentum, and our drive to pursue a degree.

We questioned if we wanted a PhD with all the stress involved and potential debt. I investigated other educational pursuits that involved history, training to teach English as a second language, or a writing career through the MFA program at Goddard College in Port Townsend, Washington. One of the many rewards of working at the University is the tuition benefit. It may take longer to complete a degree working full-time, but employees avoid educational debt.

In 2012, the PhD program, rather suddenly, came out of hiding and ready to accept applications. Exciting news and I considered application to the program but decided to delay for the first year, fall 2013. I visited with a longtime friend and mentor whom I trusted and knew would ask me the tough questions that boiled down to a simple, “Are you sure?”

My area of interest is affordable housing policy. I spent a year investigating topics and research questions with various faculty, friends, and directors of programs involved with housing issues. I considered the impact on my life if accepted. I finally turned in my application for a fall 2014 start-up.

In early spring, I received a form letter in the mail – the answer was, “No.” Initially, I felt hurt hearing the news via an impersonal form letter, and nursed an insulted ego for several days, okay weeks – all right maybe a month. Yes, I still feel a tinge now!

Curiously, underneath it all, I noted a sense of relief. I struggle with health issues and had concerns about my stamina to complete the program. At 55, I deliberately ponder how to spend the next healthy years of life. In addition, when I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I had a terrific review session with the Department Chair. Congratulations to the program that had over 50 applications!

When I paused to reflect thoroughly on the ordeal, I realized a five-year journey ended. I spent the last five years thinking or talking about getting a PhD. – at least once a day. That turned into a fair amount of real estate property in the brain dedicated to the question, To PhD. or not to PhD.VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

To be continued……

 

Stuff, Things, Paper Trails and the Recycle Bin

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Stuff

At six am, the lumbering sound of the recycle truck interrupted the morning silence as it traveled through the neighborhood.  I heard it stop in front of my house, and empty the full contents of my recycle bin into its container.  No going back now with the choices made over the weekend to lighten my load, and get rid of things.

Since my daughters left the nest, a new-found energy to downsize infused my life.  I feel ready to move to a smaller home.  I do not want to manage stuff, and desire a smaller living place so that time, money, and energy are with friends, traveling or visiting my girls.

I sifted through boxes of things, and more things – stuff, papers.  The last 30 years I kept magazines, newspaper articles, and old school papers from my college days and from my daughters’ school years – elementary through high school!    I have boxes of cards celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, get well, bereavement, cheer up, friendship and thinking of you expressions given to me throughout my life.   Not only cards mailed to me but  I managed to secure and store cards sent to other members of my family.

The cards document our journey through life.   Sentimental evidence difficult to discard because it is proof I was here, went to college, had a family, and belonged to a community of friends.  Occasionally I need visual, written evidence that I loved deeply, cherished my daughters, and enjoyed incredible friendships over the years.Image (11)

While working on my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed social history research.   Before Facebook and email correspondence, I cherished the excitement of sifting through primary resources such as letters or cards.  For example, a love letter between a famous writer and her partner provided a unique historical glimpse of issues that impacted their lives.

As I picked through the stacks, I thought that my daughters might be interested in reading through old letters, journals, or greeting cards for a bit of family history.  I also came across letters from a childhood friend who recently died of cancer and wondered if her children or grandchildren would want to read the news and thoughts she wrote about her beloved family to others.

My mom condensed my childhood collection of schoolwork and pictures into a box.   Throughout my life during difficult decisions and tumultuous times, it helped to read stories I wrote as a child or comments that teachers made on my report cards.  Not to drown in memories or the horrible quicksand of would have, could have, should have – rather to gain glimpses of reference points into characteristics that distinctly belong to me and light a path for future endeavors.

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More Stuff

For the time being, I downsized from five boxes to three, and that is not a bad beginning.  As for schoolwork from the girls’ collection of stuff, I saved selected artwork and all of their writing.  I think they will one day enjoy reviewing the poems, journals, and essays they wrote from elementary to high school.

Milo and the Moon

SAM_2694Milo’s’ small brown speckled puppy face oozed endearing cuteness from the puppy carry case.  My daughter, Jen arrived at my house Saturday evening.   Off work late, she decided to stay the night at my house and brought Mr. Milo along for a visit.

He is a Brittany Spaniel, about 2 months old and full of zestful energy.  Unlike the languorous nature of  rubenesque Miss Cleo cat, Milo galloped throughout the house and retrieved shoes stashed under beds and furniture.

In spite of his adorable face that pleaded for sweet, mushy attention, a few random, cranky thoughts crossed through my brain.   An empty nester for several years now, I navigate my days unfettered by care-taking tasks , and puppy Milo required supervised attention.

Inside voice groaned and complained, “Oh great, he is going to interrupt my sleep as we need to take him out a least once to go to the bathroom.”

We tried to watch a show, but Mr.  Milo demanded our full attention.  Finally we abandon our movie plan, and Jen took Milo out back to run him back and forth in the yard to help dial down his exuberant energy so we could sleep.  Sure enough, a few hours into a lovely slumber, I heard the signals that Milo needed to go outside.

Jen roused herself and together we stumbled out the back door with Milo in tow.   Crisp air danced lightly on our faces, and the full moon illuminated the grass delicately painted with frost. While we waited for Milo to sniff out that perfect spot, we both looked up to a sky covered with a patterned formation of broken white clouds.   The creation of the clouds appeared to form a large circle that covered two-thirds of the sky.

As the clouds moved, the harvest moon managed to occupy a place in the center, and the effect was that of a cosmic spotlight beaming to the earth.  The graceful early morning silence enfolded us. We both stood longer than I thought we would and watched the clouds lazily sweep across the sky.   The moon continued to find open slots to peek at us with a soft, fall weather illumination.

Already fond memories are forged around the new puppy, and because Milo needed to go outside, we experienced a sparkly, celestial performance that we otherwise would have slept through.SAM_2695

From Cantankerous Behavior to Laughter

SAM_2647Friday finally arrived after another busy week at work and I felt that wonderful euphoric relief.  The mood in the office always relaxed, jovial as we all look forward to the weekend break.

However, somewhere in the day, my mood took a dive, perhaps due to fatigue.  Tunnel vision descended, a lighthearted mood spiraled to cantankerous behavior that took comments, and emails out of context, the wrong way, or personal.

The result, at the end of the day I apologized for a mean-spirited email I sent to a boss, and to another coworker for an unnecessary comment specially designed to make him feel bad.   They both graciously accepted as we all realized we have our less than stellar moments.  I berated myself a bit for the level of meanness that I am capable of, and then felt a surge gratitude that I work with good people with large hearts, always willing to talk out issues and find solutions.

Still,  I wanted to immediately leave work and take a reality dive complete with massive amounts of chocolate and blanket over my head.  My escape plan was suddenly interrupted by the loud  buzz of my phone that signaled an incoming text message.  It was an invitation to go to a movie with my dear friend Sharon.

My inside voice immediately responded, “Oh no, I am tired, feeling low and need to go home to engage in a massive self-pity reality dive.”

However, I paused, and instead simply responded, “Yes, thank you.”

From that point, we hashed out the evening plans via text.  First on the agenda was a stop at the famous Whole Foods Market to partake of their diverse food menu and eat on the patio.  Next stop was the Flicks movie theater for see Austenland, a movie I essentially knew nothing about other than it is a romantic comedy centered on  a young woman’s obsession with Jane Austin and Mr. Darcy.

Still feeling a bit surly, edgy, and discontent, I nonetheless enjoyed chatting with Sharon as we watched the theater fill up primarily with women. Chick Flick night!  What a great evening, not only with Sharon but also with a theater full of women (and three guys) that I did not know.  A charming, entertaining, witty movie that we all easily laughed,  chortled, clapped, and completely gave ourselves too for our own gala evening.

At the end a woman behind me cheerfully remarked, “This really is one of the best shared audience movie experiences I have attended in a while.”

We all left the theater smiling.   I felt terrific and slept incredibly well, a tangible testament to the power of laughter, friendship, and sharing a movie night with live people.SAM_2648

Collective Memories

union blockFebruary First Thursday in downtown Boise, at the Idaho Fettuccine Forum saw one of its finer presentation moments by Professor Lynn Lubamersky’s,  Memory and History: Inclusion and Exclusion in Public Commemoration.  As Boise approaches it 150 birthday celebration, Lynn has launched a project via Facebook to gather collective memories of our community.

I moved to Boise in 1978 and throughout the years  frequently struggled with feeling a sense of community or belonging.  I claim responsibility for much of my attitude and chalk it up to an ongoing restless streak, at times an attitude of terminal uniqueness, and the grass is greener somewhere else mentality. The opportunity to pause and share memories with others is restorative and fosters a sense of belonging.

Again, a friend’s observation works well here,    “Strange the way paths cross. In fact, only when they cross do you realize you’ve been on a path.”  Sharing memories flushes out the threads of my life, our lives together, in the tapestry of Idaho.

Then life got better as we walked out of the historic Union Block to the lovely streets of Boise, we encountered a group of young people giving away free hugs. My friend, Noreen, and I laughed, hesitated and kept walking. Then the magic, the spark  – the why not, and we let these extraordinary folks embrace us with a group hug, smiling and laughing.  How simple the act and what extraordinary young people taking time to disperse a gentle, kind gesture to strangers on the street.  The encounter put a smile on my face for days.SAM_1899