Monday, December 31, 2012

It has been decided...

It's been a few days since I've posted. I became a bit sidetracked with holidays, layoffs, hospital visits and computer problems. Between those things, I've also managed to have some fun - went to Portland Revels, saw The Hobbit, took a drive through the Gorge, did a bunch of cooking that I normally don't have time to do, had friends over for Christmas and then celebrated Christmas with other friends last night. On the way over, I realized that we have known each other for 25 years. Because we did not meet in utero, this makes me feel old - old and lucky.

The truth is that even if I sometimes feel emotionally dramatic, I have a pretty good life. It's not perfect (I'm too fat, have too many bills, the kitchen in my house was designed by blind monkeys, etc.), but it is a good life, often even a great one. Like everyone else in the world, just before New Year's Day, I'm thinking about what changes could help put more checks in the great column.

The things is that I really don't like new year's resolutions. What I do like is the idea of doing goal setting for the full year and breaking that down into small quarterly resolutions (aka steps) that will get me there. When I think of it that way, there are three big areas I'd like to focus on this year:

  • Health
  • Finances
  • Creativity
Health: My biggest health complaint is that I am overweight and out of shape. It seems like every year, I (like half the world) resolve to lose weight and get in shape. I make big plans and then lose steam. This year, I am keeping it simpler. I want to lose twenty pounds, ideally by my birthday in March. If I can lose more, that's great, but for now my plan is simply to lose 20 lbs.To that end I am starting off the new year doing a 3-day cleanse, followed by a diet. I think I've tried about every fad diet, shake, powder, pill ever invented. It's all great for a month or two, but then peters out, because you can't live like that long-term.  My plan is simply to eat real, non-processed food, cut out as much sugar and white flour as possible, limit eating out to once per week, and go for a lot of walks. I'll let you know how it goes.

Finances: Compared to a lot of people, I don't really have that much credit card debt. Still, the more unstable my work environment feels the more weighed down I feel by the debt that I do have. It doesn't help that I recently charged a new camera and, even recently, a new laptop after Tedzilla (my sweet, giant labradoodle) knocked a drink on my old laptop in a fit of wiggly-waggely joy. So, I am going to set up a budget that includes making some higher payments on my biggest credit card to pay it off and also putting away a little more into my almost non-existence emergency fund.

Creativity: This one is really more of a list of (probably on-going) projects I'd like to complete this year than a specific goal:
  • Look for inspiration by attending and participating in events that motivate me to make things (go to concerts, take a class visit art exhibits, get out in nature, etc.)
  • Set aside some time every day (ok, MOST days) to write
  • Make a little music (most) every day
  • Recommit to the art project I was doing with my friend Jen and her sister
  • Blog every day for the month of January (I started this in December, but it fizzled somewhere around the middle)
  • Make a quilt
  • Come up with a project to justify recent purchase of cool, new camera
  • Come up with a project to make my health goal more fun and do some trackig of it (I already bought the journal for it!)
So, those are my goals for 2013. They are (like everything) subject to change, for I am nothing if not flexible, but I think they are a good manageable set of tasks that will set my 2013 off in the right direction.

But, for now, I have to go say a fond farewell for 2012. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I hope your New Year's Eve is a good one.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Falling


Tonight, I am writing you from the future – a future where sneaky people write and backdate blog posts, because the weekend was mostly too busy and filled with emergency room visits for regular posting. It all started Friday night, when after a craptacular week of people being pushed over the edge of the fiscal cliff, I decided to celebrate still having a job by going Christmas shopping and out for dinner with my mom. It was all looking good until we stopped for cat litter and beyblades. The store was even relatively empty, considering Christmas was only two and a half week away. With it not being crowded, we took our time browsing around. My mom got jeans, I got a couple pairs of cute $10 pajamas. It was great, unless we decided to leave the safety of Target in search of food. And that is when it happened.

As we were walking out into the parking lot, trying to figure out which aisle we’d parked in, my mom tripped and fell face first into a concerete parking spot divider. It all happened so fast. One second she was walking and the next she was struggling to get up from the wet concrete with blood streaming down her face. Being super squeamish about blood, I kinda froze for a second before I realized that this was going to require more than whatever wadded up piece of napkin I could find in my car to clean up, so we went back into the store to ask for a first aid kit. In the end, the security people at the store (who are apparently trained to help in emergencies too!) were very helpful in getting the bleeding under control and calling 911.
 While we waited, some Target representative catalogued all the injuries down to the last scratch on her knees. I think the lady was actually genuinely nice and concerned, but it was also pretty clear that in this litigious age, they weren’t taking any chances that anyone could come back and sue them for anything that was not on the accident report. By the time the paramedics got there, every scrape and bump had been inventoried and my mom was convinced she was just fine. She always thinks she’s fine. The gaping flap of skin and quickly swelling bump on her forehead, however, begged to differ. In the end, the EMT’s proclaimed that she was going to need stitches and offered to chauffeur her to the hospital a few blocks away by ambulance, but she wasn’t having it. So, I ended up taking her to the emergency room myself after making sure they thought she would be okay if we declined their help.  
Anyone who knows my mom knows that she is no stranger to the emergency room. We joke that Kaiser Sunnyside should have a wing named for her, because I swear her emergency room copays paid for their most recent remodel. In the past ten years alone she’s been there for a pacemaker, a couple of dog bites, an infected hobo spider bit (almost lost a finger!), but there were previous visits too. She attends all of them with cheerful stoicism (really, I’m FINE! I barely feel it. I don’t even need to be here!). I, on the other hand, worry, fret and suffer gacktacular rumblings in my stomach trying not to look too closely at at whatever she’s done to herself this time. As she gets older, I hate these visits even more, because I always feel on the nagging edge of sadness for some future day when I’m going to be hanging around a hospital waiting room because something happened to her like when my dad had his stroke or the subsequent heart attack that killed him. But I try to shove that feeling down.

In the end, it turns out to be one of the quickest emergency room visits ever. An hour and three stitches later, we’re in an out in record time. The next day, the bruising darkens. She looks like someone punched her in the face. Because she insists on taunting me with requests to look at the wound, I know she’s feeling okay. All is well that ends well and with a good excuse to tell people she was in a cage fight at the senior center.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Revelry

Below is a video similar to what I did tonight, except for that it was not 2008, it didn't happen in Washington DC and the theme was Appalachian rather than French-Canadian. More on all of that later, for I am tired and need my beauty sleep.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Aftermath

Today we had our big company meeting at work. My headache is gone, but my estimate that we had let go about 1/3 of our workforce was sadly correct. That is a lot of people in the past year, considering was already let go 100 back in January, some others over thes summer, and reorganized our management structure a couple months ago. The good news is that I still have my job and can continue the awesome practice of being home officed. That doesn't stop me from feeling bad for everyone else, though.

When the economy was better and we were still letting go people who weren't so well suited for their jobs, I used to always tell myself that maybe it was just time for people to move on, because there was something more appropriate out there for them. Sometimes we need a nudge to get pushed into what we really should be doing instead of being challenged by a role in which we're doomed to fail, because it doesn't highlight our talents. But now we really are (mostly) down to the good people. That what they are supposed to be doing is scrambling to come up with rent, utility and food money going forward is too depressing to contemplate.

The only thing that comforts me is that there are some who also gave their notice today, because they had found new jobs. So, while it is challenging, I guess it's still possible. Meanwhile, I can still be thankful that I have a job that I can still work from my home office, that I have an awesome boss, and that I have hope that my company, which was started and run from in a mid-western garage 50 years ago will soon again thrive.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Martina and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day

A short post again as today was an exhausting day. Shortly after getting to work, we received an announcement that there were significant cuts being made - 150 people let go, more info to come tomorrow. What a heavy, sad way to begin the day. It didn't take long past "We are saddened to announce...", before I started to feel it in my gut.

Luckily for me, I am still employed, but a lot of people who have become friends as we've worked together for years are not. Layoffs weren't unexpected. You don't need an economics degree to know my company isn't performing well, but I figured they would come (like last year) when we all returned from our Christmas holidays. A coworker mentioned that it seemd particularly cruel, so close before Christmas, but I suppose in a way it is better now than after people had overspent, maxing their credit cards buying gifts for the kids.

It's not the first reorg I've been through, but it's never easy. There's the initial fear that you'll get the summons, the sigh of relief when you don't, the realization that other people weren't as lucky, the guilt, and the scrambling to see if the ones you are close to are okay. Even when one understands the fiscal reasoning behind the cuts, the human impact is hard to ignore. It is on days like these that I am so thankful that I work from a home office and don't have to be in the middle of all that turmoil. Even at a distance, there came a point a little before noon, where I just couldn't take any more emails, ims or calls ranging from attempts to fish for gossip to lovely, concerned coworkers, wanting to make sure I was okay (there was a lot of reaching out to make sure people were "safe" today) and had to just step away for a bit.

By the end of the work day, the headache I've been nursing since yesterday started feeling like it was moving into sit-in-the-dark migraine territory. And now I just feel tired and sad. The only thing that has perked me up all evening has been that signs point to possible snow next weekend. So, I'll end this post on the cheerier note that it made me feel just a little excited. What is it about snow that makes even the headachey and tired feel that sense of snow day anticipation that goes back to childhood? I don't know, but it's a bit of happy magic I'll gladly accept after a day like today.

Below is a picture of Lily, Gizmo and Teddy last winter, when Gizzy and Teddy were puppies enjoying their first romp in the snow.



Monday, December 03, 2012

Fra Giovanni

Earlier, I was thinking about how usually it seems to be around the beginning of December that the holiday blues seems to set in. This year, I have have been delightfully blues free compared to past years . I'm still not sure what happened, but whatever it is, I am thankful for it. Thinking about it reminded me of something I always found comforting to read when I was feeling down about the holidays (or anything else, for that matter), so tonight just a quick post of a letter from Fra Giovanni Giocondo to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513.
 
Written on Christmas Eve, 1513
 
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not.
But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow.
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.
And to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver.
But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as
ugly or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor,
woven of love by wisdom, with power.
Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me,
that angel's hand is there.
The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence.
Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.
Courage then to claim it; that is all!
But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
wending through unknown country home.
And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and
forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.
~ Fra Giovanni

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Sweetness of Honey

For an uptight, white semi-Protestant, who has such an eclectic view of religion that she doens't have a name for it, I have an amazing affinity for gospel music sung by black women with big voices. Really, I have an affinity for all music as long as it's well done. And one thing that the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock do brilliantly is sing. Each one of these women has an amazing voice in her own right. I would be thrilled to hear any one of them sing live, but when you put them together, the result is such a beautiful tapestry of harmony and rhythm it dances into the sublime.

Tonight I had the unmitigated pleasure of hearing them perform at the Dolores Winningstand Theatre. It is an evening I will remember for a long time to come. The thing I love so much about these women is they way interweave music with social and civil rights issues. Their music is not a lullaby but a call to awaken. They use music to honor where we have been and to push us into thinking about where we want to go as a society and as a culture. In doing so, they take something that would be beautiful as art on is own and make it into something important, something that that inspires people to shape the world into a kinder, gentler, more loving, more beautiful place. I can't think of a more apt way to introduce them than the Brecht* quote that was used to introduce them tonight: "Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."

I've seen them perform before, and it was amazing, but to see them in such an intimate venue was a real treat and the perfect way to start of a month of celebrating all the things that make life sweet as the Christmas holidays draw near. Nights like tonight really do make my heart happy.



(*Note: I've also seen this quote attributed to Karl Marx on the net, but, of course, no one ever cites where it came from. If the internet were a research writing course, it would not get high marks for accurate footnotes!)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

There will be cheer!

It has not quite been a year since I last posted, but many things have come to pass: my two Christmas puppies from last year are now grown, twinkies did not outlast everything after all, our government has been overthrown by gnomes (okay, not really, just checking if you're paying attention), and December is here. And you know what that means! You don't? Well, then I shall tell you. It means it is time for my Advent gift to you (yes you!). This is the gift wherein I announce that I am not dead yet. I know this will come as a huge surprise, especially to those who don't know me, but you have my word of honor that it is true, so don't be hatching elaborate conspiracy theories wherein I wrote this post before my demise and post-dated it. Just between you and me, I'm really not smart enough to come up with something that devious, and even if I were, I'm far too lazy.

 
Now that we have that out of the way, can you believe that it is already December 1? Me neither. It's only twenty more blessed days until the winter solstice and the days again slowly starting to grow longer and then it is just a few days until Christmas. Despite having sometimes battled with holiday blues, this year I am excited about the season. I am not entirely sure what has elevated my mood this year, but it seems that a few things have conspired to make the holiday season a bit more welcome this year. As near as I can tell, it is a number of things working together to create the perfect (snow)storm.
  • Gratitude: In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I made it a point every date to write down something for which I felt thankful. The list went from the ridiculous (on Thanksgiving, I was thankful that I wasn't a turkey!) to the sublime (friends, family, pets, music), but every day no matter how I felt, I wrote something, anything that engendered feelings of gratitude. And you know what? It worked! It worked so well that it is a practice I want to keep up. I think it really made me realize how much I have. I may not be wealthy, I may not have some traditional Norman Rockwell family experience, but what I do have are great friends who are family, cuddly rescued pets who think I'm the greatest thing since catnip and rawhide, a warm (if sometimes crowded) house, a good job, and the satisfaction of waking up knowing I will not end the day lounging in a roasting pan while some strange lady stuffs with my nether regions with bread, dried cranberries and chestnuts.
  • Activities: This year I gave some thought to the coming holidays and made sure I had some events and activities planned to look forward to. I got tickets to Portland Revels (as of last year, my new all-time favorite holiday activity!) and a Sweet Honey in the Rock Concert, making sure I had some holiday events to look forward to early in the month. I also plan to be open to impromptu participation in some of the other Christmas festivities in my town and definitely will attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my favorite progressive church.
  • Mindful gifting: I don't buy a ton of gifts each year. My mom and I don't really exchange gifts anymore. We probably spend more money buying presents for our dogs than we do for each other at Christmas. We usually just celebrate with togetherness, good food, some joint donations to our favorite charities and maybe tickets to a show or something like that, but it's been a long time since we've exchanged presents. For the gifts I do buy, I've never been a big Black Friday kind of shopper, but (with the exception of my adopted nephew, whose seven year old brain is convinced that there is nothing more precious on this earth than beyblades) this year I've made a really conscious decision to support local businesses, artisans, and the arts as much as possible in my gift giving. It really takes the pressure off. There are no huge crowds on Etsy, and, even if I do have to go out shopping, I can do so feeling good that I am supporting some worthy small business or organization instead of supporting the greed of asshat companies that tore employees away from their families on Thanksgiving just to work a sale that could have just as easily been had the next day or the day after that. It also makes it so when I do get out into the hustle and bustle of things, I can just enjoy the decorations and music without having a mission, because I know that my mission is at the little store down the street or the internet or the theater and then somehow all the stress parts of the hustling and bustling just roll off me.
  • D├ęcor & Flexibility: At my house, to tree or not to tree is the eternal question. I love big, fresh cut Christmas trees. The other human dweller in my home would be just as happy without a tree and if we must have one, there is always a push for something small and fake, which for me kind of defeats the purpose. There is an added element in that Teddy the Labzilla is in a phase of his adolescence in which his mission in life is to pilfer anything that's not nailed down. I am convinced that he must think his name is "Teddydropit!"His history of stealing shoes, hair brushes, underwear, flashlights, sweet potatoes and anything else he can get his paws on does not give me high hopes for Christmas ornaments. Somebody is getting coal in his stocking, and his name starts with a T. Sadly, he will probably try to eat the coal (eating things most people would think are non-edible being another cherished hobby) and a chase will ensue, but that is another story for another time. So, the plan for now is to see how we do with an advent wreath, lights and decorations on the mantle. If he passes phase one, then we will look into phase two – a tree. Either way, we WILL have something festive looking in this house, even if it's just a tinsel festooned labradoodle tied down with Christmas lights.
  • Letting go & less stress: Somehow in a climate of layoffs (like many companies, mine started the year with them, there were more in the summer, and it's looking like there could be more in January), my work has become much less stressful. Part of this is due to my own learning to let go a bit and part is because I'm the only person left and have much less involved boss and more personal control over how I schedule my time than I ever did in the past. The net result: Work stress does not bleed out of my work time and into my personal life. After years of feeling frazzled by my professional life, this is a huge weight off my shoulders and one I've had to lift myself by changing some of my own attitudes about what is and isn't worth my emotional energy. It's only taken me almost eleven years with the company, but I think I've finally done it!
  • Spirit of the Season: My spiritual beliefs run to the eclectic. There are some beautiful things about Christianity and the traditional celebration of Christmas. There are also equally beautiful things in older pagan and druidic traditions and the celebration of the Solstice. So, at my house, we are doing both this year. We have greens, advent candles that are, instead of the traditional white, pink and purple, a mix of foresty green and pinecone shaped to honor nature and the coming of the light. I am joining an Advent Reading and Discussion Group, but also spending time observing some different weekly Yule traditions. I did celebrate a sort of last minute, half-assed Alban Arthuan ritual last year, but this year I am being more intentional about honoring both. There are people who will say you can't do or believe both, but I say that anything that makes you feel closer to the spirit of the world and the coming of the light is a thing worth doing. Your path is yours and mine is mine and in my humble opinion, they lead to the same place anyway. There are many ways to reach the mountain peak and we all must choose our own.
And that is, at this early part of December, my recipe for a happy holiday season. There will be sparkling light, gifts, celebrations with loves ones (the details of which have not all been completely hammered out yet) and food (there is always food!). If that fails, there is always drink. Most of all, however, I hope there will be happiness. It is what I wish for you, for me, for all of us who sometimes struggle this time of year. As we embark upon this final month of the year, may it be filled with the same spirit of wonder, joy and beauty I am hoping to hold onto myself.