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

Taos Habitat for Humanity Build – Reflections Part 1

20141027_090419Oh Taos, New Mexico.  I whined about traveling to your sunny, high desert mountain land.  After enduring the brutal Idaho heat, I get protective about where I want to spend my vacation time which is to scurry to the ocean mist and cool off.  Finally, I committed to join my favorite Habitat for Humanity team for the second week of the build.   I should learn by now that when I drag my feet going somewhere, the trip will be super extraordinary.

Two weeks after returning home, I huddled under blankets on the couch after six inches of snow dumped on Boise, Idaho. The temperature hovered around 10 degrees, and I confess  that I missed the warmth of the Taos sun and fresh mountain air.  I played a CD purchased from the charming guitar playing singer that entertained the Sunday market crowd in Santa Fe.  What a beautiful voice, loving personality, and he blossomed as his hippie chicks gathered around to groove on his songs.

The autograph of Canta Chris Abeyta on my CD highlights his charming, compassionate heart.  “To Susan E.  Music is our spirit, it never dies.”

Taos was a hauntingly beautiful trip from beginning to end.  First I reunited with my Habitat family, minus dear Terese, Kate, Pat, Mara, and Maria, but delighted to meet two new additions, Brian and Bev.  After a weekend of relaxing in Santa Fe with the team visiting art galleries, examining gorgeous jewelry, devouring chili rellenos and key lime pie, we headed to Taos.1280 (1)

The road that Rick drove from Santa Fe to Taos illuminated one glorious fall colored view after another.  High desert straight roads grew curvy as we ascended to high elevation mountains with little towns nestled along the way.   Oddly, the terrain seemed familiar and resembled mountain driving in Idaho. Then I saw the sign  to Espanola – a town my grandparents lived in when I was a girl growing up in Boulder, Colorado.

My family had traveled the road from Boulder through Taos and on to Espanola many times.Old memories wove their way to the surface, and I experienced sentimental feelings of coming home.

20141027_072509My teammates gave me a tour of my home.  We stayed in an old convent, mattresses on the floor, two or three to the room with a couple of bathrooms to share.  A walk across the parking lot took us to the kitchen where we consumed excellent cuisine planned and prepared by Susan Latham.

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Work site of the The Mares Home Taos Habitat for Humanity

Monday morning I stumbled out of my bed early for morning coffee.  When I stepped outside I could smell a skunk and spotted a pair of bushy black and white tails frolicking in the front yard of the church office.  I reported my wildlife experience to the group, but the skunks had disappeared by the time Nancy went looking for them.  I thought the charming creatures a good omen, and felt excited to experience my week with Taos Habitat for Humanity.

 

Habitat for Humanity Taos, New Mexico

Adobe House in Progress

Adobe House in Progress

New Habitat adventure to Taos, New Mexico.

Smooth flights, easy connections and a variety of unusual airport conversations were the order of the day as I traveled Friday to arrive in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There I joined with some of my favorite Habitat for Humanity buddies.

They team has already been in Taos for a week building, and the weekend of October 25 is a rest and relaxation break.  Excellent timing on my part!

We spent a lovely Saturday walking through the local farmers market, visiting the abundance of artist galleries in Santa Fe, and marveling over the glorious, colorful fall weather. I stuffed myself with green chilies and flavorful salsa throughout the day wishing I could transport the homemade spicy delights home. Though I am bringing home a delicious jar of raspberry red chile ginger jam.   I ate the best Chile Rellenos last night for dinner and am still feeling the fire in my belly!

This afternoon we check out of our hotel and head down the road to Taos, and plan to stop for photo opportunities in this extraordinary landscape.  Monday the work begins for me and I look forward to building with this eclectic group of friends.

Best Team Ever!

Best Team Ever!

 

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 2 – Onward with Life!

DSC_0602nal banjoTo PhD or not to PhD, Part 2 –  continued from Part 1:

The mystical irony was in the timing that I received the no go PhD news. Relaxed from a Cascade, Idaho cabin retreat with my inspirational women friends, I immediately spotted the letter on the kitchen  table.  The weekend was rich with soul-searching conversations, vision boards, dream exploration, laughter, delicious food, and plenty of opportunity to snooze.   I tore into the envelope ready to accept my next challenge in life.

“Dear Ms Emerson – I regret to inform you that your admission to the PhD in Public Policy and Administration, State and Local Government has been denied.”

My fall higher education plans completely derailed, and mixed emotions swirled in a recipe of bruised ego, anger, and disappointment.  Then I felt embarrassed because for over a year, I talked incessantly to friends and family about my PhD plans. Next, a simple, subdued  thought, “Now what do I do. Reapply next year or apply to other universities?”   Finally, a curious feeling emerged  – relief.

Then the big question, do I want a PhD  and why? I know I can achieve that goal, but is that how I want to spend my time. Lack of a PhD does not prevent active involvement in affordable housing advocacy.

Since that March 2014 spring day when I opened the “No” letter, my life rapidly changed. Fall 2013, I had received a promotion into a new job as a Proposal Development Specialist with the Research Computing department. As a result, the rest of my spring 2014 melted into a flurry of travel to trainings and conferences that revitalized my talents and put my MPA to use.

I went on a glorious trip to the Washington Olympic peninsula, camped out, took long walks on foggy beaches, and explored the rain forest. I visited my daughter in Portland, Oregon and we shared an incredible weekend in Cannon Beach. My other daughter returned from New Zealand with loads of stories and pictures.

I decided to downsize, simplify, and sell my house, move into a smaller apartment and use precious time and money to travel, visit friends, and write. Instead of mowing the lawn or home maintenance projects, I plan to devote time playing the banjo, going to bluegrass festivals, writer workshops, and blogging conferences.

My PhD plotting plans did not leave a void for long. Other opportunities rushed in to seize the moment. As the gorgeous, cooling fall weather eases into the Treasure Valley, I am able to pause, thoroughly enjoy the transition, and not worry about getting an assignment completed, or that next paper written.

In October, I travel to Taos, New Mexico to join friends for one week to work on Habitat for Humanity build. I became involved with Boise Valley Habitat in 1994, when hired into a support staff position. After the position had ended, I remained involved with the organization locally, national and internationally. In addition to local builds, I joined Global Village teams in Northern Ireland, Romania, Guatemala, Hawaii, and a Jimmy Carter build in Valdosta, Georgia.
I look forward to additional volunteer opportunities and a chance to spend time with friends as result of my long involvement. Onward with an adventurous life!

photo (13)photo (10) (1)I look forward to additional volunteer opportunities and a chance to spend time with friends as result of my long involvement. Onward now with an adventurous life!

Chronicles of Downsizing

Stuff Quizzer Spirit

20140731_195039I finally decided to commit to selling my house at Snow Goose Way.  Lest you worry, I want to clarify the house you see pictured on the top of this blog is my future coastal dream house. Snow Goose is in Meridian, Idaho.

Each day after work, three or four boxes of items got packed, labeled and hauled out to the garage.  Through the month-long process, without fail, sometime around 2 am or 3 am in the morning the stuff quizzer spirit poked at my sleepy mind.

“Hey, sorry to bother you so early, but I noted the following items.  You packed three boxes of greetings cards. Granted you took five boxes of cards and correspondence, sorted and condensed to the three boxes – congratulations.  Still go back and reconsider.  Do you really want to keep all that?”

I woke in the morning with the now familiar mantra, “Get rid of it!”

My daughter, Jen, and I had a lunch rendezvous on Saturday.  I love our conversations, and the way Jen examines various aspects of life.  I asked her about all the greeting cards and correspondence.

“Do you ever think you may want to look through the cards, letters and check out various notes written to me or you girls over the years?   During my undergraduate history days, I enjoyed finding old letters and cards and reading how people related to each other through correspondence.”

Jen got a rather perplexed look on her face and immediately, without hesitation exclaimed, “No mom, I know who you are, and I don’t need to look through old cards and letters to learn more.  Let go of the stuff, be free and enjoy your life.”

Our kids did not want our stuff.  The majority of my fifty-something friends are experiencing the same downsizing, simplify our lives movement.  Our children, now young adults, consistently shake their heads at the collection of stuff.  The pieces that perhaps draw attention are family heirlooms, selected items that individually mean something to them, or items that may sell for a decent price.  And we all secretly harbor hope that a piece of furniture, artwork or item we acquired is worth $100,000 or more – if not now, possibly in the future.

That weekend I ventured back to the carefully sorted and packed boxes of cards.  I gave myself a couple hours to read the birthday cards, wedding cards, congratulations on your baby cards, sympathy cards and other correspondence between friends over the past 30 years.  I laughed as I read humorous notes, and later tears took over as I longed for the early days of my marriage, newborns and grieved the death of family and friends.   I held paper proof of my 37 years of living in Idaho.  I cannot go back in time and alter any decisions.  Even if I could, how risky to pull on a thread and unravel a cherished story line.

I found the decision to discard the physical evidence a step out on the ledge of faith that felt both solid and precarious.  That weekend I celebrated and grieved the past.  I acknowledge the rich flow of friends and experiences throughout my life and the life of our family.  During my time in the Treasure Valley, I engaged in community activities and volunteered hundreds of hours to great causes.  I tried to create a better world for my children, all of our children.

I honor and cherish each note and card that a wealth of friends and family took time to send.  20140731_194956However, at the age of 55, I feel the clock ticking and want to spend joyous real-time moments with people and events. In order to continue on a sparkly, vibrant path of trying to give more than I take, all that stuff cannot travel along.  No need to reach for physical evidence, or waste time sorting through stuff.  Time to hold the memories close to my heart and step out in faith.

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……