Tag Archives: Life

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.


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.

Soul Extraction


I love people. People are one of my favorite elements of our planet. Well, people and flowers.  I love going to the State Fair every year, not for everything fried on a stick, but to watch the sea of people move, almost as one, in a wave-like fashion down the packed streets of the fairgrounds. I love to sit in crowded places and listen to the hum of human voices. It soothes me.

Working a crowd is not my scene, but I thoroughly enjoy getting to know people one on one. I love to sit with a person in a coffee shop and listen to their story.  I want to know where they are from, what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, and the sorrows they’ve known. I don’t forget those stories either. I try to remember the details and the stories become a part of the quilt of humanity I am sewing together in my head.

When I meet someone unpleasant, I always try to remind myself that they too have a story. There’s a reason why people act the way they do. When I forget this detail, I am happy to have friends around me who will remind me.

I once had someone tell me, “Don’t invest so much energy in people, invest more in your life and your work.” What??? That’s like telling a bunny not to eat carrots or a child not to laugh. It’s my nature. People are my life. That sounds like a dramatic statement and it isn’t that I overextend myself, but I love to invest in others, as much I can. Why not add to other’s lives if you are able and when you have the opportunity? It’s part of the journey we are on together.

The people I meet along my way in this world are like treasures. Each highly valued for one reason or another, with something to teach me about myself or about life; Something they do or say that makes me laugh; An alternative viewpoint or experience with which to challenge me.  I keep them close to my heart, even when time and distance separate, the memories of the  people I have known and the things I learned from them remain a treasure.

It’s probably because of my love for people that I get so attached to friends and struggle with so much sorrow when they move away because my friends are never just an accessory to my life, they are a part of me.

And I am faithful, especially with my closest friends. I stick around and work when things get hard. I wait, hoping and believing things will improve and they often do. Relationships with people ebb and flow. I am quite aware of this. My husband says I stick around a lot longer in a relationship than most others would. That might be true. I think I do it because I have faith in humans that most times they come back around and things can be good again. I always seem to retain hope.

Sometimes friendships gradually end over time. I’m ok with that. But sometimes they end because of neglect or hurt. Those are the endings with which I struggle. The hardest thing I ever have to do is to watch a close friendship of mine end. I’m really bad at giving up on someone. For me it’s like extracting part of my soul, the part that they occupied. It’s a painful process and leaves a hole in my heart.  However, I know that sometimes turning away and letting go is the bravest thing to do, even if everything in me cries out, “No!”

If you read my post, Circumstantial Erosion, you’ll understand when I say, sometimes there just isn’t enough beach left on which to rebuild.

Fortunately, time heals wounds and I comfort myself knowing there will be new people to meet and to know. I’m mindful that no two beautiful people are exactly alike. There is no replacing someone whom you have lost, no filling the hole they left completely. But there will be new friends in which to invest and love; new stories to hear and patches to sew into the quilt.  After all, it’s a great big, wonderful world. 🙂


You might be over 30 if…

Damn you, Journey.

I was in the dance studio with my kids yesterday and those four repeated piano notes sounded out across the studio. As soon as I heard them I ran to the room from whence they played. As I watched the young dancers move unknowingly to this, a favorite days-gone-by relationship song, I felt my throat tighten and tears well up in my eyes. I watched a few moments letting the music move me to a different time and place in my mind, when I was a teen and love was young and passionate.

I turned around to see another middle-thirties mom choking back tears, wiping them from the corners of her eyes with her pinky fingers in an attempted clandestine manner while her face reddened. I left my moment and walked back to the lobby where a thirties-something dad belted out the chorus, “I’m Forevaaaahh Yo-oooours….Faithfully (air guitar…)” The rest of the studio, the kids and the younger parents, were unmoved by what was happening and remained safely planted in 2014 where some old Journey song, “really old music” as my thirteen year old called it, played in the distant background.

Thanks for outing me, Journey. It seems I’ve become one of those parents, who gets emotional about unknown bits of music that transport me back to my youth. S’okay. It was bound to happen sometime.




Joyful summer, 2011

I decided today was as good a day as any to start blogging again. I’d stopped for a while. Papers to write. Friends to whom I could tell my secrets and thoughts. There was little need for a blog, I guess. But here I am three years or so from the start of this blog and there’s a need again. Friends keep moving or moving on or are prepping to move. Getting married. Making new friends. Moving countries or states. So now, seven years into living in Minnesota things are hard again. Not as hard as they were when I started blogging, but difficult. Plus, I am currently awash in melancholy which is always a great time to write.

Three years ago my world opened up. I met several dear friends in quick succession. My one friend (who has since moved over the ocean) said, at the time, that she felt my heart open to the world that spring. I was invigorated and felt alive and joyful. I spent that summer with days at the lake where friends would come and go with their kids. We’d bring lunches and stay all day. I had weekly coffee talks with another dear friend with whom I’d talk politics and policy. I turned thirty-five that summer and threw myself a party and had many guests. Now, I look back on pictures of my party and that summer and feel drowned in sorrow. Most of the people have physically moved and some of the others have simply moved on.


I know for many people this is just a part of life. Friendships ebb and flow, but for me it aches. I love people. I love the people in my life. They become like my family. I invest in them wholeheartedly. I feel and enjoy their presence with every bit of my soul and the loss of their presence, or sometimes even the reduction of time spent in their presence, is agonizing. I guess I don’t adapt to changes very well.


One friend I have made here in Minnesota posted quotes about love for the entire month of February. One quote shared was, “It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.” I could not agree more. Sometimes I wish I was different. I wish I didn’t notice when friendships change or care as much when people leave. I wish I didn’t feel it so intensely. I wish I could be like my husband who says, tongue in cheek, “Relationships: A mess not worth making.” Alas, that is not the case. So, I trudge through this world adoring and hating, feeling exhilarated and distraught as friendships begin and end and people come and go. It is what it is. I make no apologies because this quality is at the core of my being. I ask only for an extra measure of grace and the understanding that for some people change is much harder than for others.


Lastly, but not unrelated, I saw the movie “Frozen” today. It struck many cords with me. I got sort of teary when Princess Anna was singing about true love. Not because of the true love part, but somehow, Disney captured in their animation pure joy on Anna’s face, which reminded me of that spring and summer three years ago and the feeling of complete contentment and peace I experienced that year, much because of the many wonderful people with whom I had the pleasure of spending time. I long for that again. During the movie I also found myself thinking that life would be much easier if my heart were frozen and impenetrable, but in order to avoid the pain and sorrow of friendship, one must also miss out on the love and joy with which it is coupled, and I guess I wouldn’t really give that up. I had an all-out cry at Olaf’s summer time song. Yeah, I totally feel that way about summer. Chris thought it was funny that I was so moved by such a silly song, and we both agreed that summer can’t come soon enough to hopefully move me from my sorrow, even just a bit.

My Constant