I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m very choosy where I spend (and give) it.  MY charity of choice is the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, where Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s efforts to help young women devastated by “too early” pregnancies has inspired me beyond measure.  To learn more, please watch “A Walk to Beautiful” at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/a-walk-to-beautiful.html.  I would be shocked if you weren’t as moved as I was.  I have only been able to afford $10/month, but for the last three years they have gotten that $10 without fail. Anyone fortunate enough to have a job can surely do without a couple of fast food meals to help someone, somewhere who needs a helping hand. If this isn’t the cause you care about, please give to the one you DO!

Love lesson #1:

Yesterday I went to Dollar General to buy a desk fan.  While there, I heard a woman singing with the muzak from above. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele was playing.  Even though she was singing quietly I could tell she had a great voice and was happy.  So, I made my way through the maze of shelving, stocked up Christmas lights, racks of canned peas and incense and found the source.  And then…I joined her.  I sang the entire chorus with a stranger, right there in the candy aisle.  It was great.  She smiled, and then we resumed our shopping

E Ticket

As a computer programmer I have wrapped my brain around a certain logic…if (this) then (this).  But here’s the thing, real life doesn’t work that way.  There is no logic.

Maybe that’s why we invented computers to begin with, to make something work the way we want (read ‘expect’) things to work.   I remember some wise people telling me once that the things that make us unhappy are our ‘expectations’.  I’m thinking it’s time to write all my ‘expectations’ down on little slips of paper then crumple them up and throw then in a garbage can, because that’s really about how valuable they are.

Life, people, love…it’s all just a big roulette wheel, a roller coaster, a ride you take with eyes closed, gasping for air, and hoping you come out wanting to go again instead of throwing up.  If (this), then (this).  Nope.  That’s not human, it’s silicon and solder, not flesh and blood.  We are not computers; we are not robots.  We build those and even they can break, just like our hearts.

I’ll just take the “E” ticket please… and maybe a Dramamine.  The ride isn’t over until we die and I’m still breathing, laughing and sometimes, yeah, even getting sick, but still strapped in, watching as the next big hill looms in front of me.

On being challenged

So, I went to a new gym yesterday. I haven’t been very physically active in a long while, in fact, probably not since my brother died. It seems everything came to a screaming halt that day. But it’s time, past time, for me to get the lard out and off, so I decided to give this new place a try. Well, my friends, I won’t be going back there. The look on the staff member’s face when he met me should have been enough to have me haul my arse out immediately, but I was too stubborn to give in to it. The look in his eyes said, “Geez, old lady, what the h*ll are YOU doing here?” and “Oh boy, I am wasting my time with this one.” and “Shouldn’t you be at CURVES or something”. What’s more, that look and attitude stayed with him the whole time, despite the lamely offered “Awesome job”, when I finished my ‘assessment’. Now I know I didn’t do an awesome job, and I know that I am 47 years old and have 30-40 pounds to lose. Of course I don’t look good next to the buff youngsters competing and congratulating all around me. But I am determined and I finished the job I was there to do. I did sit ups and burpees and squats and pushups, all badly, and all with sweat streaming and vocal cords straining, just to see disdain in his eyes as he limply offered me a free week. But I won’t be back. Not because I did so poorly, and not because I am old, and not because I am flabby. I won’t be back because it was so obvious that I didn’t fit in and that poor guy is a really bad actor and he made me feel like sh*t (even though I don’t think he really meant to). SO!, I am going to do some yoga today to stretch and heal these sore muscles, and as soon as they feel better, I will hie myself back to the Dojo, where I know they respect me, wrinkles, flab and all. I will sweat and pant for a few weeks, and then I will go back to kicking and screaming. I belong there, I love it, and bruises be damned. The reason I went to that gym was vanity anyway. I didn’t really want to be black and blue all the time from sparring, at my age people look at you really funny for that. I get a lot of funny looks and flack every time I tell someone I do Tae Kwon Do, again like it’s an alien activity for all but young men. But I will be much better served doing something I love and feel good about. I may be old, but I am not too old to kick butt, and who knows, maybe in a few months I will go back to that gym, do another ‘assessment’ and wipe the attitude out of those young bucks’ eyes. I am a green belt, I am persistent, I am strong and I DO love a challenge after all.

Dolling Up

2013-07-09 10.51.15Lately I have been a little at loose ends.  After quitting Web Parts (see this post for the story on that bust) I have looked for a job and tried to find out just what it is that makes me tick.  So, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my children and getting caught up with, and in their lives.

They are terrific motivators, my kids.  They are always busy, cheerful and alive.  They have always been artistic and creative.  I like to think my genes may have contributed to that fact.  Not only are they creative, they are enterprising as well and recently they opened an Etsy store to sell the crafts they are constantly producing.  The “Live Long and Fandom” store sells the stickers, key chains. woodwork and jewelry they base off of popular television shows like “Supernatural“, “Doctor Who“,  and “Star Trek“.  They encouraged me to start crafting as well and I was excited to be invited to share their new venture.

At first, I didn’t know what to do.  I used to do glass etching and tried my hand at that making a mug that featured Dean from Supernatural on it.  It came out really well, but I wasn’t particularly inspired to continue the practice.  Then I tried to do some woodburning like my daughter Sarah, but again, not really my thing. Then I tried making a plushie doll.

Suddenly I found myself not only inspired, but almost obsessed!  I pumped out three dolls in three days, each one a little more complicated than the next.  First, a Castiel doll, then a Spock, and then a Legolas joined the products in the store.  But I still wasn’t satisfied.  Sure, the plushies were cute, and I really enjoyed the process of planning and producing them, but since they were simple and made entirely of felt, I couldn’t give them features and realism I found myself craving.  So, I turned to something I saw my other daughter Janine doing.

She was making tiny cartoon-like figurines of television characters with Sculpey, firing and painting them and turning them into pendants and key chains.  It looked so easy to work with.  I went to Hobby Lobby and did some shopping, finding the raw materials to make something more detailed and complicated.  Gandalf the Grey is my first project, and he is coming along so well and has been so much fun to create that I am on fire!  I am now starting on a mission to create realistic character dolls with sculpted heads, hands and more.

When I was a little girl, I used to draw, paint, sculpt figures out of soap…always making something and always expressing what was in my 3D brain one way or another.  As an adult, I just stopped doing it.  Life somehow always got in the way.  I used my job to keep my creative tendencies assuaged, making websites and designing print pieces.  Somehow I convinced myself that I was OK with that and that it was enough.  But doing these things for someone else, doing what they dictated, dealing with someone else’s subjective opinions made me feel less like an artist and more like a workhorse.  But now, I feel like…well an ‘artist’ again and it is making me feel so good!  Even as I work on completing the first doll, I am planning the next and the next!  Granted, it may not make any real money or give me a real job, but it is giving me back my sense of self.

I have spent the last few months wondering WHY all this misfortune fell on me.  It feels like I am getting an answer.  Maybe not a fiscally advantageous one, but definitely a spiritually uplifting one.  I feel more like the person I was meant to be.  I feel like the little girl again, doing what made her happy.  I needed to put down the expectations of others and pick up the pieces of my heart.  My heart wants to create and it has been dormant for decades.  Like a bear coming out of hibernation, it is ravenously hungry.  So I am feeding it.  I don’t think I ever want to put it on a diet like that again, even if I DO get a real job I think I have found the ‘thing’ that feeds my soul.  Who knows, maybe it will feed my kids too, after all, if some of these dolls sell I might be able to pay a bill or two.  Lord knows, today I am paying the debt I owed my soul.

If I love you…

you will know it.  I will tell you.  You will be the victim of kiss attacks, neck chewing, hair inhalation, and casual caresses with no respect for audience.  My appetite for you will be voracious and appreciative.  I will tell you how pretty, cute, beautiful, talented, funny and wonderful you are.  I won’t wait for the ‘right time’ because ‘now’ is always the right time.  I will sing love songs to you in the car and dance with you in the kitchen.  If I love you I will say it aloud and in every way I can possibly express.

My kids can vouch for this.

School of Fish out of Water

ImageI have never been ‘unemployed’ in my adult life, until now.  It’s been a couple months, submitting application after application, waiting for a phone call and living with the frustration of wondering when someone will see me as ‘value added’.

It’s true, I haven’t come up with the latest IPod widget.  I haven’t created some hip, new Web App.  I’m not nineteen years old, fresh out of college, or the next up-and-coming Steve Jobs.  I can’t sell myself as any of those things.  So how can I convince a prospective employer that I am worth something to them when I don’t have those credentials.

The truth is, I was there from the beginning, when the web was new.  I built my first site before you could take a community college course in HTML.  How did I do it?  I looked at the source code of someone else’s site and figured it out.  I downloaded a demo copy of PhotoShop and taught myself how to make an animated gif long before the advent of Tumblr.  Now it seems they are all the rage!  They are NEW!  They are AWESOME!  For me, well they are old news I read long ago.

I don’t have certifications that prove that I know what I know.  Why?  Because I taught it all to myself.  When lightning struck the phone system at the university where I worked in the computer center, it was my job to re-enter all the data into the new system.  That wasn’t good enough for me though.  I looked at the data and saw a the perfect opportunity to create a people directory.  I wondered how I could get it to talk to our website.  Wouldn’t it be nice for people to be able to get on our site and be able to find phone and office locations from anywhere?  Why yes, it would!  So….without anyone asking, without anyone even thinking of it first, I went out and taught myself MySQL and PHP so I could hook up that database to the site.  I made the first working online personnel directory the university ever had and it is still in use today.  In fact, according to Google analytics, it is the most visited page on the site.

I didn’t stop there.  I continued to teach myself more and more, to make the site bigger, better, stronger.  I taught myself how to edit audio so that when the marketing manager decided to post the president’s speeches, I could edit out all the “um’s” and “uh’s”.  I taught myself Sony Vegas to create videos for a great admissions department landing page at no cost to the university.  I used what I had taught myself about PhotoShop to make an interactive Flash campus map and saved them even more.

But…in today’s glutted applicant pool, I am treading water at best because I didn’t learn these things from some third party who could give me a diploma for it.  What’s worse?  I did what my mother and father taught me was right and actually had the audacity to stay at that job for ten years!  How horrible!  Everything I am reading now tells me that when companies see you in a job for more than four years they assume you have no ambition or are ‘dug in’.

It seems now that I am dug in.  I have dug myself into a hole built by caring.  I stayed at the university working as hard as I knew how to make things better there.  But every job I look at now wants me to have specific experience–retail experience, sales experience, medical experience or some amorphous characteristic that keeps me swimming in the shallow end.  There is a disconnect I haven’t figured out how to work around yet.

I guess I could tell them I have sales experience from the time I worked as a property manager, talking potential renters into choosing our apartments over the competitors, but that doesn’t seem very sexy when I did it almost twenty years ago.  I could tell them I have medical experience if they want to count that I used to read my mother’s nursing textbooks for fun back when she was getting her degree.  Retail?  Well I worked at a tire store for six years back when I graduated high school.  Somehow, in the face of ‘what have you done for me lately’ those things just don’t seem very relevant.

So…what do I do now?  Web designers are a dime-a-dozen these days.  Sure I know how to use WordPress and Joomla.  So does that nineteen year old who doesn’t mind working eighteen hour days in a cubicle for pizza and mello yello.  Why doesn’t real experience count against someone’s paid-for piece of paper?

Maybe I’m just too old.  I came from the land of ‘work hard’, ‘do your own dirty work’, ‘solve problems’, ‘be loyal’, and ‘good work is it’s own reward’.  Somewhere during that time things changed to ‘slow down, you’re making the rest of look bad’, ‘delegate’, ‘outsource’, ‘job-fishing’, and ‘follow the money’.

I’m a fish out of water.  Maybe I’ll go back to school.  Seems I need a diploma in been there, done that.

A good dog

gooddogA few weeks ago, my daughter and I embarked on a new venture as licensed pet sitters.  To market our new business, we marched door to door in the early summer heat in a few of the nicer neighborhoods in town, passing out fliers and introducing ourselves, hoping to drum up a new customer or two.  Surprisingly, we found that a good percentage of the people we visited didn’t have any pet at all!  As people who have had dozens over the years, this was a shocking revelation.  I’m not sure how someone can live without the company of non-human creatures, especially since, at least to me, they are the only source of uncompromising, unconditional love.

All my life I have had pets, pets of all kinds: turtles and frogs liberated from piney forest streams, crabs harvested from marshy banks carried home in dixie cups full of sand and salt water, goldfish won playing ring toss games at school fun fairs, kittens rescued from dirty ditches and dogs brought home in the backseats of cars.  Each and every one was lavished with love, toys and leftover bologna, given names and all my good intentions.  Some stayed only a little while, some stayed a lifetime, all were gifts from heaven for me to practice my stewardship of God’s love.

According to my mother, my first word uttered during my diaper years was not mama or dada, but Bo.  Bo was the name of the Cocker Spaniel puppy my family owned from shortly before my birth until years later when he died of old age, still carrying his favorite squeaky rubber duck around like a captured flag.  He was the first animal I knew and I was immediately certain where my heart belonged.  He was the first of many dogs in my life, but there have been two that I truly called my own good dogs.

The first was Laddie.  Laddie was a registered full-sized standard Collie, complete with a lion’s mane of white and a tail that swept coffee tables clean.  He wasn’t mine at the start, but as my siblings grew up and moved away, he became mine by default and was my best company during those tough middle school years. He had a needle-nose capped with short spiky whiskers that he would push into my face for hugs after long days at school.  He was my constant company during the Florida summers under the scuppernong vines in our backyard, sharing the warm sweet fruit with me endlessly.  I would squeeze the sweet bulbs of those grapes between the tiny teeth in the front of his snout, one for you, one for me.  I’m surprised I didn’t make him sick.  More importantly, he was my therapist.  Every time I had an adolescent cry, Laddie was there, leaning into my side and crying along with me.  He had an empathy that went beyond words, one that still makes me wonder if God’s angels don’t have wings at all, but rather have fur coats and fleas.

For my children, Sheila was that good dog.  My ex-husband brought her home one day in the car, trembling and tucked under the driver’s seat so tight I had to drag her out.  It took weeks for her to decide that we were trustworthy, but when she did, she proved herself to be the best friend a house full of girls could ever have.  With few exceptions, Sheila hated men, and after I separated from my husband, she made it her business to be our house protector.  No man could come in our house without her say so, and even then they were suspect.  We didn’t have to fear any intruders, Sheila was on the job.  We knew she would have laid her life down for us.  My daughter had her for a friend and circus performer, teaching her tricks and advanced rope jumping in the front yard.  She mothered countless kittens and reared a stray puppy or two.  None were her own, but she didn’t care much about origin, only that her charges were well behaved and lived up to her standards.  She had no bad habits, made the perfect toe-warmer, and had the tolerance of Job.  Again, God’s angels don’t have wings.

So now, even as we are trying to find housing in another city, we are doing so with certain standards.  If they won’t accept our pets, then we won’t accept the place.  There is no place for us that won’t allow us our angels.  They are our hearts on four legs, fuzzy, drippy hearts that we can’t have broken for very long.  Our dog Linus is waiting for us now while we live temporarily in a small apartment looking for a house to rent with a yard and a pet-friendly policy.  Someday soon, we hope to bring him home, another good dog with a furry-faced grin to grace us after these long, hard times.  I can’t wait for that day, when our dog days are over and our days include a good dog again.  Everyone should have at least one.