Tag 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.


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.

Honey, I’m so glad you’re well…AKA: Perseverance

Well, he did it. The Hubs. He got out. He worked at a coffee shop for fifteen years and now he is OUT! At first he worked there so that we could have health benefits while I stayed home with the babies. Then it was to help pay for seminary. Then it was because people who work for churches don’t get paid much, generally. Then there was the whole Minnesota chapter…too long and gory a story to get into. Then he became a Manager and the schedule and demands of the job were difficult on him and on the whole family unit. And now that chapter is OVER!!

About two years ago he started dabbling with the idea of getting out. However, looking for a job is like a full-time job and so the search was slow and difficult. Finally, at the end of August he was offered a position in the Customer Care department of a large company here in the Twin Cities!

Hubs is like a new man. He is so happy and content again. Our lives have suddenly normalized. It’s extraordinarily pleasant and almost unbelievable.  He says that each day he feels so giddy he wants to pinch himself, and I have to agree. I am not sure I could be happier for him and I tell him everyday how proud I am of him for sticking with his search and persevering in it.

Our kids are ecstatic, too. They feel like they have gotten their dad back from the Big Coffee Monster 🙂 We have explained to them that we are lucky to have the resources to be able to have choices and to make changes. I want them to know that if they have dreams, they should chase them. But, I also want them to understand the complexity of the issue, which doesn’t often get talked about. In order to go after something, you must have resources; not just money, but family support and community resources; opportunities to network. This is a reality we have learned not to take for granted. Everyone can dream, but dreams become more attainable with resources.

Cheers to you, Hubs! To us! To new chapters and to more dreams! And beer! Cheers to beers 🙂 I heart you.


Friends move, then Winter.

Friends back Home

Well, what was a mountaintop experience of graduating has quickly eroded into the summer doldrums. Unenhanced by the excitement and vigor of grad school, my Minnesota life has become clear, yet again. It’s a life mostly characterized by friends moving far away, generally in late August for whatever reason, followed by the quick and relentless pursuit of my least favorite season, Winter. And as the calendar made its tick to August this week, I felt reality close in on me. It’s coming.

Moving to Minnesota is a difficult lot. You’ve heard it said elsewhere, but I will reiterate here, it is nearly impossible to break into circles here. I won’t beat a dead horse by telling you that people here have had their friends for life, that they will meet you anywhere except in their homes, that they might say, “Let’s get together,” but they mostly don’t mean it, etc etc. Suffice it to say that all of those things you may have heard are painfully and regrettably true for many people who have moved here from elsewhere. So, my biggest success in making friends who will actually hang out and get involved with my life and my children has been with transplants. However, transplants move and so here we go again…

Transplants don’t leave Minnesota quietly, either. They generally leave in a blaze of glory, shouting their relief as they go. That they are FINALLY getting out. That it SUCKS to live here. That they are going back to where FRIENDS can be made and the WEATHER doesn’t threaten your life.

Their parting sentiments only reinforce my already well-weathered struggles with living here and exacerbate the late summer blues. This year feels different, though. It’s getting to a point. There are a few reasons I stay: My kids are happy and I have a job. These are things that are really great and I am not making light of them. But those things aside, it is becoming difficult to look at our future in Minnesota and imagine an entire life lived without the security and comfort of a big crew of friends and family and friends-as-family in and amongst my daily life.

Mostly I feel scared. I am sure this is driven in part by my obvious depression of late, but I am scared of living without a network of people to lean on during the hard times and to enjoy during the good times. When we return to NJ for visits I am always struck by the depth of my relationships there and by the genuine quality of people’s affection for us. They love us, they love our kids, they want us in their homes, they want to know us, and the feeling is mutual.

I have not found much of that here, and that’s with much effort. It’s not that I haven’t found it at all, but mostly I have found it with the people who keep moving on. And with the ones who stay, it seems to take so much work because it’s not second nature here to really live life with and invest in people other than family or life-long friends. You can’t make people include you. You can’t make them believe your kids are important or that theirs are important enough to you that sure, you’d go to that hockey game just like a blood relative might. You certainly can’t convince them to call you when they need something because they don’t want to owe you anything. Believe me, I have tried. It was never this hard back home. People back home make you their family without asking, whether you are blood-related or not. That’s just not the way here.

Minnesota is not a bad place. It’s a great place if you are from here. But what I have realized of late, is that I am not from here 🙂 . I will never be from here. It doesn’t matter if I become a Twins fan, go to the State Fair, eat cheese curds and walleye, go to the cabin, graduate from the U or entertain myself in Minneapolis. I will never be FROM here and without that rite of birth, I will never be one of them. As my one friend put it, there is some sort of code to living here and getting “in” and those from the outside just aren’t provided with said code.

The Minnesotans might talk to me, enjoy my company, think I am an interesting and forthright person, but when it comes to holidays or family parties, we are not of the tribe.

Minnesota, you nearly have me beat. My resolve is weakening. And maybe that’s the point. Texas has a saying you see all over billboards there, “You’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” That is not the case here in MN. It’s more like, “Outsiders, how long before you go home?” Maybe, in the end, the goal is our surrender.

I have often felt as though returning home to NJ would be like coming full circle, and that was in some way admitting defeat. Well, that may be true, but maybe defeat is ok if you are returning to the open arms of the people who know you and want to know you more. I’m not sure, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to not consider giving up. Maybe one day I’d like to wake up and just feel settled like I used to in NJ, where a 1200 mile move wasn’t always something on the horizon  to consider.




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.



No one packs me pickles…

the crew
My Crew

Yesterday at school (I’m a  Master’s student) a friend came into the room where a few of us were sitting and offered to us some homemade pickles. Being a huge pickle fan, I immediately took up the offer. Of course I asked who made the pickles. She said, “My dad. He packs me some everyday, but I’m not in the mood for them today.” I said, “Wait, your dad packs your lunch?” “Yup, ” she responded.

Sigh. There’s something quite nice about the thought of being taken care of, of someone packing my lunch for me, someone acting as the grown-up in my life so I wouldn’t  always have to fill that role. I’m older than most of my grad-school friends by about five to ten years;  Add to that the fact that I was thrust into adulthood when my mom passed away when I was 20,  and I realize, I’ve been taking care of myself and other people for a really long time.

It’s different for most of my friends. They are mostly still intimately connected to their parents. They are in this different sort of in-between stage where they are not quite grown-ups, but not quite kids. They are independent, but still being cared for in little ways that make a difference.

That in-between phase was never part of my existence. I got married young, just after turning 21, and started having babies shortly thereafter. By the time I was 29 I was the mother of 4 children. I’ve never had any regrets, but every now and again I long for the feeling of not having to captain the ship, not having to make the decisions. My husband and I have a really egalitarian marriage and, given my fiercely independent and fiery personality, it probably wouldn’t work any other way, but sometimes I long for someone to take the reins so that I can stop feeling like I have to take care of everyone else for a minute. Sometimes I’d like to call up my parents, particularly my mom, and just lay it all on her and let her tell me what to do.

Some days I wish someone would pack me pickles and send me off to my day and I could, for just a minute, breathe a sigh of relief knowing that if I flub the day someone will come to my rescue and be the grown-up. While I’m sure I wouldn’t want it that way all the time, and please understand that I know it isn’t like that in every situation for my friend, I think for a day or two every now and again it might be nice.