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

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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.

 

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:

mpa picture

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……

 

Memories of Valentine’s Day 2013 – The Grand Production

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Ice Storm Photo by Molly Emerson

I have had this story in my WordPress Que left over from last year, Valentine’s Day 2013.  I thought it would be fun to share as I look forward to 2014 production day.

February 14, the infamous Valentine’s Day that evokes gushy expressions of love or cynical statements that the holiday is “all about the greeting card industry.”

It is an odd day, that resembles a play production.  If you are a cast member then you wholeheartedly embrace learning the dialogue, rehearse gift options with close friends, eagerly wait for the completion of the stage with the scenery and props in place.  The big day arrives, the curtain lifts, the production begins, all involved hope that lines are perfectly delivered, everyone stays in character, the lights and sound will function correctly, and the audience will enjoy the show.

Act one began quietly with frosted cookies and a nice note from our boss.  With greed and gusto we stuffed the pink sugary delights into our mouths.

Act two, one of my co-workers received flowers and tears flowed from her lovely eyes.

In the third act, several of the guys gathered in the cube to compare notes on what they had planned for their wives hoping they had made the right choice in gifts.  I eavesdropped to make sure the gifts were Valentine Day appropriate and sufficiently romantic.

Intermission was uneventful – no singing telegrams, chocolate or any other heartfelt delights.

Act four, the grand finale,  centered on me in a surly mood as I walked across campus.  I spied a gathering of students handing out something – not sure what.  Usually I take interest and love seeing the activism of young people.  Not today, I made plans to sidestep the gathering.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young student head my way.  I reluctantly lifted my head, smiled as she approached me.  She grinned big and dropped a chocolate kiss in my hand, and gave me a slip of paper with an inspirational quote:

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.” – Ingrid Bergman

How simple and lovely.  On a chilly Valentine’s day a group of about 10 students took time out of their day to hand out chocolate kisses for  a bit of cheer.  As I walked away feeling the love from the young students – the curtains closed to a standing ovation.valentine cookies

Production day is again rapidly approaching and I have my tickets purchased for the grand event, do you?

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