Category Archives: Inspiration

Take time to listen to the tales…

cowboy hatI’m an East Coast girl. I’m always on the go and always somewhat in a hurry. Even when I am not actually in a hurry, I have this looming feeling that I SHOULD be in a hurry. Get the information and go; do the task and move on; Go Go GO!

You can imagine that sitting still and listening is not always a strength of mine. When I am in the mood to get to know someone, I can sit with them for hours, but if I am in GO mode, I often feel like a tightly wound spring that needs to release and move onto the next thing.

This fact became especially apparent to me the other day. I was scheduled to have coffee with an older gentleman about a project we are working on together. When we planned the meeting he told me, “Let’s meet at 4 p.m. I’ll be wearing a cowboy hat, so you can recognize me; either straw or felt, depending on the weather.” I probably should have known at that moment that this meeting might be different from what I was planning. I thought we would meet, get a hot beverage, I’d get some answers to the questions on my list, and get home.

I arrived at the coffee shop before him, got my drink (a chai latte), and prepared my notebook and pen. When he arrived, I realized he was definitely not in GO mode and that, yes, he definitely must have envisioned the afternoon going a bit differently than I. He moseyed in, wandered to our table, and immediately started discussing the options the coffee bar had added to the menu recently. Then he told me a story (the first of many) about his experiences back east when he lived in Massachusetts.  Eventually, I managed to direct the conversation to the project we will be working on together. But nearly every question I asked was answered in a roundabout way with a story or two that were indirectly (or not at all) related to the topic we were discussing.

I found myself getting warm and frustrated. The time was ticking away and there were (what felt like) a million other things I could or needed to be doing rather than spending all this time on his stories. However, as I sat there, watching his mouth move yet hearing little because my own thoughts were swirling around in my head, I realized he just wanted an audience for his stories.  He meant no ill, but only to share a few of the treasures he has collected on his life journey.

Our lives are that; a collection of memories and stories. Good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, our stories make up who we are and as we age, I imagine we have fewer and fewer people with whom to share these pieces of ourselves.

So, sitting there, I took a deep breath and started to try to listen because I realized that someday I will be older and I feel pretty certain I will want the same thing; someone who will just take a few minutes so that I can share a part of me. Don’t get me wrong…it was still difficult. The competing GO mode was still there, but I became aware of the fact that sometimes I need to shut that off. I need to work on giving people a little more of myself by taking time to just sit and listen to their tales.

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Sometimes we drive each other nutty, but this guy really loves me…

me and chris 3

Our anniversary is coming up this Saturday. It will be 17 years. That’s a pretty long time. I like to think of myself as young-ish, but 17 years married starts to make that a less convincing argument. I think about the Hubs and where we have been. It hasn’t been a dream, full of wonderment. Marriage is not a fairy tale. Let me say that again…Marriage is NOT a fairy tale.  Our marriage is NOT a fairy tale. Sometimes I don’t know how any marriages last. It’s often a bit of a Gong Show, but we are still here, hanging on,  and experiencing an upswing right now, which is nice.

Here’s the thing:  he still  loves me, after all this time. I am still first. Not even his comic books have surpassed me…yet. I never wonder if he still loves me, I just know it. I am not an easy one to love. I know you must find that difficult to believe, Reader, but it is true 🙂 I am strong-willed and opinionated. I have a really horrid temper and mornings make me grumpy. I am wildly jealous and territorial. And yet, this guy loves me. Not only does he love me, he likes me. He really, really likes me. He thinks I am funny and cute. He sees my wild swings of emotion as side effects of my passion. He finds my jealousy and territoriality (is that a word?) charming. I have never, ever felt like I had to apologize for being me. He accepts me just as I am.

Hubs is steady. Level. Calm. Content. Loyal. He is everything I need in a life partner. And he makes me laugh til I need my inhaler (I have asthma). That is a most excellent quality. He is better than me and he loves me better than I love. I am not sure what I ever did to deserve to be loved in such a way.  My conclusion is that I did nothing. Not everyone finds someone who loves them in  this way, or who doesn’t get bored with them. I got lucky. I picked a Really. Good. Egg.

He tells me often that he hopes our kids turn out like me, but Hubs, I think we make a pretty fine combination. My Mallard Duck, or My Golden Eagle (did I tell you they pick a life partner too?) I am so very glad to be going through this journey with you. I hope you can tolerate me for a really long time, but if not, I’ll just kick your butt.

An Open Letter to the Class of 2014…

 

Nicole graduation

Well, it’s done. We did it. It was a fast and furious four semesters. And now we’re done. Moving on, headed back to regular life. In some ways it feels like one grandiose hiccup in the journey. Just a blip in the entirety of our lives.  But in other ways it was life altering. For me, it was a highlight of my existence.

For a person who sees life as one shell-collecting walk, I found a lot of unique and wonderful treasures during the last two years.  For you non-beach babies, I’ll explain. When you live at the ocean, many hours are spent, not sunbathing or riding the waves, but in walking along the beach looking for treasures, maybe a certain color sea glass or full shells instead of broken ones. The walk is all about collecting as you go. I see my life similarly, only people and their stories are my treasures.

While at school I was constantly amazed by the people I encountered. Everyone was so smart and interesting and full of stories to tell and wisdom to share. I’m pretty sure I met a future President of the United States and might have gotten a picture or two with him or her.   I met people who reminded me of the unquenchable hope we have when we are twenty-something and others who had a more nuanced perspective of the world. There were those that came from places whose names I have never heard and those who will return to places I will likely never see. I met friends who made me laugh every-single-time we were together and others whose stories pierced my soul and reminded me of the unsinkable determination of the human spirit and our ability to overcome hardship.

As you leave this place remember, with a little help from your friends you can do just about anything. Love people and pour yourselves into them, but always take care of yourselves, too. The better you care for you, the more you will have to share with others.  Take the world! Make a difference! Share what you know and what you think. Be humble. And if in ten years you think, “Aw crap, there’s something else I’d rather do,” then do it! Ten years ago I didn’t even know the job I will be starting soon existed! It is never too late to change course, never too late to chase another dream.

To all of you, thank you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives; For sharing your stories with me. Thank you for letting me be your candy supplier and for the looked-forward-to conversations at my desk while you snacked. Thank you for showing me that it doesn’t really matter if I am a little (emphasis on a little!) older than you and have a few kids in tow, we are all journeying through together. I will be forever grateful that I entered this program at this grad school at the exact time that I did and got to know all of you. You have left an indelible  mark on my soul. Good luck in all you do, now and always.

Dream Big

are you doing your very bestI am at the threshold of the completion of a life dream. I always knew I wanted to go back to graduate school, but I wasn’t sure which field of study I wanted to pursue. So, instead of going right after college I got married, worked for a while, popped out a few kids. Then about five years ago I secured a job at the University of Minnesota  doing research, the gears started going again about this grad school thing, and, well, the rest is history.

Here I am, four semesters from the start, about to graduate, feeling as though I picked exactly the right Master’s program where I got the exact skills I was seeking, and will soon start a job in the field I love where I get to read articles, run statistical analyses, and write papers all day long (a nightmare for some, I know).

I share this not so that I can say, “Hey! Look at me! Look what I did!,” but so that I might convince you to believe that any dream that is worthwhile to you is worth chasing.

I was a pretty unlikely candidate for graduate school. I was in my mid-30’s, a mom of four, and had been out of undergrad for many years.

But a few years ago I realized I had given up too much of myself to live the life I was living. Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of MY goals and MY dreams and much of my identity. Getting married and having children can do that.  That was an unsustainable reality.

So, I began my journey to collect the pieces of myself and my dreams that I had dropped along the way. Going back to school was a big one.

My family had to sacrifice to get me where I am today. We moved into a smaller house, my children saw me a little less,  my hubby did a lot more housework and worked a second job. It’s been a journey for us all, but I am so thankful to have gone through it together.

I hope that in seeing me pursue my dream my children and the others who might be watching see proof that it’s never too late to go after something; you can always change course. Good enough doesn’t have to be good enough. Settle for less in life only when you want to settle. Dream big and with a little help from your family and friends know that many things are possible.

 

 

We may have forgotten how to Be Present…

 

newsiesblur
The Newspaper Men

I sat in a coffee shop today waiting for my friend at a high-top table, the bright, warm sun hitting my back, and I was captivated by the gathering of older gentlemen sitting and reading newspapers, undisturbed by laptops and tablets and phones. There was not much  movement on that side of the coffee shop. No quick gestures to answer phone calls, no incessant scrolling on smartphones, no sounds of typing on keyboards. The only repeated movement was that of the newspaper pages being turned slowly and folded back. I envied the tranquility on that side of the shop.

The area where I was sitting was abuzz with group meetings, gatherings of friends texting as they talked to each other,  businesspeople figuring out their Facebook advertising strategy. As I sipped my coffee I thought to myself, when was the last time I just sat, with no device, and took in the world?

Those men reading the newspapers have grown up without the distraction of multiple devices. They prefer their news to come to them the old-fashioned way, on newsprint in ink that turns your fingers black; With words that, once printed, can’t be updated until the evening edition, or tomorrow’s paper.  Those men are able to sit and read and reflect and be present. Present. How often are many of us just not fully present anymore? How many of us have lost the ability to just sit and be?

The building where I work has a large atrium. My office is on the second floor, so if I go out the door I have a neat perspective of all the tables below. I often stand at the railing and people watch. There are very few times when I look over the railing at the folks below and see anyone sitting without a device of some kind in front of them. Rarely do people sit and read without having their phones at the ready.

I am guilty of the same thing. My phone is like another appendage. I am always quick to answer, quick to respond. My phone serves as my alarm clock and is generally the first thing I touch in the morning upon waking. I look at Facebook, read emails, go on the internet. Rare is the morning when I wake and lie in bed and listen to the birds or enjoy the shadow play on the wall as the sunlight streams in the window.

Our phones and tablets take us from the moment. They rob those around us of the pleasure of our conversation. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat with friends and they pull out their phones. It always makes me wonder, “Is my company not enough?” So,  I pull out my phone and we sit alone together.

By constantly being on devices we also send the message to everyone around us, “Don’t talk to me. Don’t disturb me. I am busy.” I often wonder how many fewer connections are made overall, how much more disconnected are we as a society simply because we are all so often “too busy” to sit and talk to someone new?

I’m not sure of the solution. It isn’t likely I will break up with my phone, I love it so. Maybe we can all challenge ourselves to take an opportunity or two to just sit, without a device, and see what happens. Try enjoying the tranquility and the forced languor of reading the newspaper. Strike up a conversation while waiting at the bus stop, if you can catch anyone before they pull out their phone. Sit with a friend and make a pact to be entertained by only  one another and the stories you have to share. Sit somewhere without your device and just be present and enjoy all that the moment, right where you are, has to offer.

 

Circumstantial Erosion

a beach mol and gabe

Did you ever experience a friendship or other relationship that degraded so far that at some point, when it got to be ugly and mucky and unbearably sad, all you wanted to do was climb into a time machine and transport yourself back to a moment when the friendship was still good and talk to the person the way you once knew them, telling them what’s now going on because that person, that friend you once knew, would understand? Yes, I know a little about that.  It’s been a part of my life lately, but when I stop to think about it, it’s always a part of life as long as there are relationships in it.

A few years ago now, Chris, my darling Hubs, and I had a gigantic and super-serious talk about our marriage. Life had been hard. We had moved to Minnesota, experienced job loss, lived without many friends, had lots of small children and not enough money, and we let all of these happenings take their toll on us. Our relationship was suffering from what I now call circumstantial erosion, the unfortunate reality of allowing life and all the crap it brings to erode away at your relationships because of your lack of care for those relationships. What I have learned since that time is that this is not just a marriage problem, but a relationship problem.

a birds

Relationships of all kinds-marriages, partnerships, friendships, parent/child-all  take work and lots of it. They require time and and sacrifice and grace and, perhaps most importantly, intentionality. Without intentional efforts to continue building your relationships and maintaining them, the happenings of life, both big and small, will wash over those relationships and carry them out to sea. The thing about erosion, and if you are from an ocean town you may understand this better, is that it doesn’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, gradually, unnoticeably, a little bit of sand at a time, until suddenly one day you look out and the beach has disappeared and you find yourself standing on just a strip of sand, wondering where your relationship has gone.

a beach

Be intentional. Be intentional. And when you think you have invested in your relationships and been intentional, be more intentional. Work at them. Don’t let all that life brings distract you. Don’t take the easy way and let your relationships drift. Give those people whom you deem important in your life as much purposeful effort and care as you can give them while still maintaining your own strength.

Sometimes erosion is irreversible. Sometimes by the time you realize what has happened, the damage may be too far along and it would take the Army Corps of Engineers to come in with major equipment to rebuild the shore. But sometimes, if you are watchful and careful, you might be able to prevent the shore from being completely washed out from beneath you. Tell your people the hard things, be honest, have conversations, let them know that you see things breaking down and eroding. Tell them you won’t let life and all its happenings wash away what you have. Tell them that it will take mutual effort, but that you are willing to work at it. And more importantly, that you are willing to keep working at it, since erosion is always a threat. Because these people, these folks whom you love and have invested in, are worth just a little more of your effort, no? To prevent circumstantial erosion? And maybe, just maybe, you can turn things around and the shore will be restored once more. I know it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen.  🙂

humphrey prom
A few years after that big conversation

If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it…

Chris and Me at Rock the Cradle, MPLS, 2012

I’m a mover. A shaker. An Energizer Bunny. I don’t sit still. I get bored if I am not doing. I invest in people. I pour my life into situations. I try to make the most of moments. This is how I live. This is how I choose to live. I like life this way.

When I was a kid, I was deathly afraid of tunnels. We lived in New Jersey and every time we’d go to the city (THE City, you know, New York, the Center of the Universe) we would have to go through the Lincoln Tunnel. I hated the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s looooooong and underwater and people drive really crazy. So, when we would enter the tunnel I’d get off the seat of our station wagon (there were no car seats and we didn’t wear seatbelts in the backseat) and assume the fetal position on the floor of the car. I would hide there until we were through the tunnel. I also hated bridges, heights, and airplanes. Oh! How I hated airplanes! As a young child I flew places. We went to North Carolina to visit my grandma and Puerto Rico to visit family, but once I was in middle and high school my family didn’t have a lot of money, so flying places wasn’t really an issue.

Then I entered college and as a college freshman my friends wanted to go to Florida for spring break. Oh dear. I reeeeally wanted to go, but that meant getting my butt on a plane. I contemplated it for a little bit and then decided to just go for it. I realized that if I never got on a plane, if I let my fear rule me, there would be many, many places I could never go. This was the first act of my, “If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it,” philosophy.

When I had small children, they were crazy, as small children tend to be. I lived in a constant state of chaos. It was like I had my own three-ring circus traveling around with me at all times. My husband was in grad school and I was usually on my own with the kids. But, I’d get them dressed, pack the luggage of supplies (ok, it was just a diaper bag with a few different sizes of diapers, kid snacks, bottles, cups, changes of clothes in three sizes…but it felt like luggage) and we’d go. I’d haul them to the beach in our wagon with their buckets and towels and shovels, I’d take them to parks for lunch, we’d visit friends near and far and even go shopping. I often had friends ask me “how” I did it. And my answer was always the same, “If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it”. There isn’t anything special about me. I am not equipped in ways that other people aren’t, but life is full of choices and I choose to live this way.

Molly and Maddy at the Beach, 2002

Since moving to Minnesota and experiencing my Great Awakening last year, when I was reminded that life is worth living even if it is set in Minnesota, I have continued to live this way. I had a friend say to me a few weeks back, after I had posted pics of some outing on which I brought my family, “You make it look like it is actually fun to live in this state.” Well, it isn’t that it is one particular state over another, and I am sure there are places that are way more fun. Ok, I KNOW there are places that are way more fun, but it isn’t about where you live, it’s about how you live.

Four and a half years ago Chris and I made a wrong turn, (and truly friends, you have no idea of the magnitude of the truth behind that statement.) That wrong turn has landed us here, in the middle of the country, in a culture so foreign we sometimes feel like we left our native land. Never in a million years would I have pointed at a map and set my sights on living in Minnewhere?, as I have affectionately come to call it, but here I am. And life here could be a really mundane, vanilla, plain-pizza kind of existence. And, as I am sure you have gathered by now, I am no vanilla-loving girl. I am a Peanut-Butter-Overload, Ooey-Gooey-Oreo kind of lady. I like pepperoni and peppers on my pizza, please. So, I choose to make the most of this place. I squeeze the life out of it and plan to see all that Minnesota has to offer me. I get out and I go and I see and I do.

But really, it is so much bigger than going out and having fun and doing things. I apply this motto to my life on a much broader, philosophical scale. If I don’t just do it, I won’t do it. THIS is why I am going to grad school, THIS is why I have my sights set on a destination, THIS is why I am not content to just sit still and ride the waves. Truly, even sitting still, life moves you forward. Eventually you get somewhere, it just may not be where you want to go.

Of course, it is much easier to it still. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. It is much easier to stay home and do nothing. It is much easier to ride the waves and see where your life winds up. It might be somewhere great, or not. I can make all the plans in the world, but if I don’t actually get up and do something and act on those plans I may never get there. So, I choose to be an actor in my life, to make life fun and interesting and to map my steps and act on them because I have realized you have to shit or get off the pot. If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it.

Maddy and Molly at the Stone Arch Festival, MPLS, 2011
Gabe and Hannah, Pop-Up Park, Rock the Cradle, MPLS 2012
Skating in St. Paul, 2012