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Marriage, Thirty Years In the Rear View

Blog weddingThe Eighties were the biggest decade of my life; I graduated from high school, went to college, voted in my first election, made my home in three different states, bought my first car, made some lifelong friends, met and married my husband. While I won’t regale you in this blog post regarding the minutia of high school, college and those early jobs, I will briefly set the stage at how I arrived at today, my (our) thirtieth wedding anniversary. If marriage is about any one specific thing, I would have to say it is about timing. Every little choice in life puts you in a certain location, with particular circumstances, which set events in motion. Upon reflection, life is comprised of each of those choices accumulated. Some choices you labor over, some you’re forced to accept as the choices of others, but most are casually made like choosing which gas station to stop at based on the direction you are driving.

In the spring of 1988, I was wrapping up a year of covering a sabbatical leave as a hall director at Winona State University and spent spring break in Mexico with two of my friends I’d met while being an RA at SCSU. One of them was residing in Northern Michigan, while the other was a nanny in California, we’d hatched the plan between Christmas and New Year’s while all home visiting family (and each other) in Minnesota.

While in Mexico, I quickly met a guy from Canada who I was instantly smitten with and the night before his scheduled departure (with his traveling companion) he took me to dinner. While dining he told me that he had spoken with his trip director regarding extending his stay and that if he could stay with my friends and I he’d book a flight out the day we were leaving. While his gesture was sweet, it was an illogical plan and though my friends were pretty flexible and accommodating, it felt like it would be a self-serving and perhaps regrettable choice to make this guy the male-equivalent of Yoko Ono breaking up our band. He flew out as scheduled and we went on to ruin the spring breaks of some poor college guys from Ohio State, a story for another day. We wrote each other for a few months and then moved on.

After arriving home, I busied myself with securing a new job for the following school year and planned to live with my folks for a month between jobs. I turned 25 that summer and during our spring break, my friends and I decided to meet for a week in California while the twins who my friend was a nanny for were with their father. One morning we stood in the kitchen in our pajamas and contemplated what we should have for breakfast. Beer was the unanimous choice and we sat in the sun on the deck and enjoyed a breakfast of liquid bread, it was several courses as I recall. We discussed many things that morning which slipped away into afternoon, among them the idea of falling in love. We developed a theory that “falling in love” was simply a metaphor for pairing yourself with a companion you could tolerate for an extended period of time. We talked about the men we knew that we’d be willing to share our lives with if we hit thirty and hadn’t met someone. We talked about guys who were good looking, men who were destined to be successful, the people we’d worked with that had the qualities we’d want in fathers for our future children. We were all 25, slightly intoxicated and thought we had life figured out. My own children are currently 24 and 26 and there I was nestled between their ages, having not yet met their father, not wearing sunscreen and totally unaware of what the coming months and years had in store. Little choices, that snowball into the big choices that ultimately become your life.

Upon returning from California, I moved to UW-Stout in Wisconsin to become a Hall Director. Three colleges, in three states, in three years. Though the calendar begins with January, I have often thought that years begin in September; school years start in September, I met my husband Jeff in September, I became a mother when my daughter Betsy was born in September. That September of 1988 my oldest brother was getting married. I had known the bride since shortly after their courtship began while I was still in college. Her parents would pick me up while passing through St. Cloud and I would watch her youngest brother play football at St. Johns where his father had played. Her parents were the first guests to arrive at my college graduation party. While I was excited to be a bridesmaid, I had the choice to make as to whether or not I bring a “plus one” to the event and ultimately decided not to. I arranged for a friend I had met in Winona to bring his classic limousine to the affair to drive the couple from the church to their reception. It was at the rehearsal the night before that I met the bride’s other brother in the back of St. Patrick’s Catholic church. In jeans and a tweed sport coat he was formal and somewhat subdued.

The plan for the evening of the wedding was that my best friend and another good friend would stay with me in the hotel and a friend of the bride who was attending alone (that I’d met at the bachelorette party) would be joining us. When my best friend arrived she told me that her new job had her scheduled for testing the following morning but she’d brought me a cooler of beer on ice for the room. The bride’s friend opted to share a room with a friend who had recently gone through a breakup. These are the choices in life made by others, that are seemingly minor at the time but are ultimately turning points in your life when you look back at them.

I caught the bouquet at the reception, invited different attendees to my room after the festivities ended and spent a fair amount of time on the dance floor. At some point in the evening the bride’s brother that I had met the previous evening stepped onto the dance floor and asked what my room number was, I told him and then said “nice hair” in reference to his meticulous flat top. Not amused he said “fuck you” and turned on his heel and departed.

While I have chronicled before how I ended up in my hotel room alone (with a cooler of icy cold beer) in cut off sweat pants and a Fort Worth Stockyards sweatshirt waiting for a pizza delivery, the more entertaining and totally inaccurate version is the one my husband’s uncles shared one snowy Christmas Eve when they were the only guests who could make the drive to our place. My kids sat on the basement steps and listened to the story, amused by our interruptions to detail the actual facts. Jeff (the bride’s brother) did show up at my hotel room and was with an intoxicated woman. It was his cousin who he had driven around and looked for a gas station with, her husband had taken a cab home and left her with a car with little gas and in no condition to drive. Since he’d driven with his parents and they were spending the night at the bride and groom’s home, he was basically stuck at the hotel with a drunk cousin. In the uncle’s version (which takes several hours to tell) I was having car problems and Jeff who was a mechanic rescued me by chivalrously making necessary car repairs and ending with “and not too much later, you came along.” with a nod to Betsy. In reality; my car was parked in front of my childhood home, Jeff worked at an auto parts store and Betsy was born on the four year anniversary of the day we met.

While his cousin “slept it off” we stayed up most of the night discussing religion and politics. He came to visit me at Stout the next weekend, I went to Mankato where he lived the one following. He met me in St. Cloud for Homecoming (the year of the riots), he had Army Reserves the weekend I took my new RA staff on retreat at the family cabin. The last weekend of October he met me in Winona and the first weekend in November, on my father’s final birthday we drove together to the cabin where he asked my Dad for my hand. We had met on September 22nd of 1988, had our wedding planned by November 5th and thirty years ago today, in weather much like yesterday we got married at Fort Snelling Memorial chapel and had our reception at the Embassy Suites in Bloomington, a few miles from the home we moved to in 2001.

From the start there were naysayers, one of our favorites being “they don’t even know each other’s middle names” (we did, which oddly held no real relevance other than we eventually used mine as our daughter’s first name). We found ourselves amused by the wedding gift that included paper napkins, a nod to the anticipated temporary status of our union. We were young, impulsive and in love. Nobody (but me) was likely more surprised than my two friends who mused just weeks earlier that falling in love was a concept developed to advance movie plots and sell greeting cards. They, along with my best friend from childhood and the groom’s sister would be my bridesmaids.

A marriage of thirty years could fill many blog posts and certainly I have shared topics from our shared life here before and will again. Like all marriages we have faced challenges, our first year tested us with the death of my father, Jeff not being able to secure work while we lived in Menomonie Wisconsin, my mother living with us temporarily and Jeff and I deciding to return to Minnesota. We’ve celebrated monumental birthdays, raised two kids we’re proud of, worked and been out of work.

We came into our marriage with friendships that have endured and continued to make friendships along the way. Last night after making preparations for our Easter Brunch I crawled into bed to watch the finale of Family or Fiance. It’s a show hosted by fellow Southwest High School graduate Tracy McMillan who provides guidance to engaged couples by having them spend three days in a lavish house with family members and friends who have concerns about the engaged couple. The objective is to earn the blessing  of their families or come to the realization that perhaps the void is too great and part. Tracy is a talented author, television writer and is billed as a “relationship expert”. A relationship expert with three ex-husbands and her own TV show and I’m currently un(der)employed grading poorly written ninth grade English tests from Tennessee. While I don’t think I am any sort of expert on marriage, I do think I have gleaned some shareable wisdom from the past three decades.

First, I will acknowledge that marriage isn’t a perfect state for everyone to live in. My four bridesmaids have had seven husband’s between them. While it’s nice to have someone to go through life with, going through it with the wrong person would be emotionally taxing at best. I laugh at the “wisdom” that might have been imparted to Jeff and I if we had gathered for a three-day intensive with those opposed to our marriage thirty years ago. In his anniversary card I gave the insight that marriage works best when you are matched with someone who is as stubborn as you are. While stubbornness may not seem like the most romantic trait, it is the bulldozer that gets you through the rude comments of others, the shared obstacles and even the miscommunication that happens between two people.

Those who know both Jeff and I would say we are fairly opposite, which means we strike a balance. He did the grown up laundry, while I did the kids. I handled the bills and the taxes. I don’t make “Honey do” lists. I coordinate the family calendar and write the Christmas letters. He puts up the Christmas lights and makes sure the gutters are cleaned. He goes to gun shows, I go to concerts and plays. He gets together with the guys from his Army Reserve Unit, I do getaways with girlfriends. He has planned four surprise birthday parties for me (30, 40, 45 and 50). I would never surprise him because he suffered from agoraphobia when he was younger and I fear it would cause a panic attack. With his buy-in I have arranged for celebrations when he turned 30, 40 and 50. He is the pessimist and I am the optimist. We both share a warped sense of humor. Betsy and Eddie would both tell you that we could go for days communicating only using lines from movies.

My advice to young couples would be don’t be polite, state what you want and mutually work toward common objectives. Choose someone who accepts your negative traits but also someone who sees the good in you that you don’t even know is there. Don’t try to please everyone around you or worry about what everyone else thinks. Find the person who you want to solve the puzzles on Wheel of Fortune with or who you can relax with in the car while they drive, the person who will remember what brand of deodorant you wear, the person you want in the waiting room when you come out of anesthesia. Figure out who you want to sit next to at both weddings and at funerals, Jeff is the guy who always has a handkerchief at the ready for me. Marriage is not about the grand gestures, it is about the common details of our shared days; missing each other when we are apart, knowing what the other is thinking. Find someone not that you can live with (as the initial plan was when I was 25) but the person who you truly can’t live without. That’s how you know.

Our marriage license says Douglas Torbert at the bottom and is signed by Rodd Johnson. Doug was stationed in Germany at the time we were married and unable to secure leave. We joke that we’re not legally married and Betsy and Eddie are our “love children”. I was married to Jeff for over three years before I finally met Doug. Timing is everything and both Doug and Rodd are currently married to women we introduced them too. Our “bachelor neighbor” at our current home is now married and the father of two. We introduced him to a woman I worked with while they were attending my 40th birthday party. While not hopeless romantics, we are suckers for love.

Thirty years have flown by, I’m older now than my own mother was on my wedding day and Jeff is older now than my father was. Sometimes the days pass slowly but the years move quickly. Company arrives in a couple of hours for Easter brunch and I still have things to tend to. As I open the cupboard to set the table I marvel at the fact that after thirty years we still have the original 8 dinner plates and 8 salad plates that we’ve eaten thousands of meals from. Only three bowls remain and the black and white set are supplemented with a rainbow of  Fiestaware. That’s what a good marriage is like, regular everyday things that last and unexpected color to enhance what may have gone missing. Things that may not appear to go together but ultimately work out just fine, as long as you don’t worry about what everyone else thinks.

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THE NERP METHOD OF LOVING YOUR JUNK RIGHT WHERE IT IS

Full disclosure; I don’t have a Netflix show (nor an account), I don’t have a book to sell you, your radio station has never mentioned me (unless you heard a broadcast of the Minnesota Boy’s State High School Hockey Tournament a few years back when the color commentator mentioned me as the “biggest fan” of the annual event, but I digress) and you have never seen me as a guest on any TV show. I’m not going to try to sell you on my method of “organization” but I can save you some time and guilt by telling you how I have learned to love the clutter that surrounds me.

Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant who has sold millions of books regarding her method of decluttering by eliminating items in your home that don’t “spark joy”. I have not purchased her book, as I imagine it would likely be the first (and perhaps only) thing I got rid of in such a purge. I loved hearing her rather soothing staccato cadence in her native tongue recently (while driving) but I have no idea what she was saying. Based on my limited knowledge of her, I am convinced even if I had understood her it would not have changed my view on her way of doing things.

Marie is a 34 year old, with a husband and two young kids. A couple of decades ago I was in the same position (albeit on a much tighter budget). For anyone currently there, might I recommend a decluttering method of small plastic bins and sliding your forearm across a surface to place any items into these baskets. The resulting mixture of Legos, crayons and puzzle pieces can then be placed atop a cupboard, on a closet floor or shoved under a bed.

If I were to seriously consider getting rid of things in my home that don’t bring me “joy” my tax returns come to mind but I know better than to get rid of them before storing them 7 years. Partial gallons of paint might be an option but that seems like a foolish choice since they match the colors of my current walls and I appreciate their accessibility for touch-ups. The same school of thought applies to the brushes, rollers and pans that don’t “spark joy” but neither does running out to buy new ones with the knowledge I had discarded perfectly good ones. The only place this method might work for me is the kitchen and the bathroom. That half of an avocado that got pushed to the back of the refrigerator a few weeks ago can go, as can the package of meat that’s exceeded the “use or freeze”  by date. The Kondo method instructs that we’re to say “thank you” to the items we discard. As a timesaving method I’m skipping this too, I view it as a waste of time to say thank you for every decision I  make to avoid getting food poisoning. In the bathroom there are unused prescriptions, partially filled containers (the shampoo and conditioner never are empty at the same time) and every couple of years I do a sweep of the hotel sized lotions and soaps that somehow seemed important to keep during our travels.

I have entire spaces dedicated to clutter and I’m not ashamed of it. The birthday candles, drinking straws, cookie cutters and toothpicks (wooden and colored plastic shaped like mortar boards) all reside in a seldom used drawer. I would have no more inner peace knowing that those items (that neither increase or decrease my joy) were no longer there. At the same time I would not be fraught with anxiety over their absence. It strikes me as wasteful to need to purchase them again repeatedly when they are items without a shelf-life. Craft items are much the same, I rest easy in the knowledge that I can create something without needing to leave the house.

My husband and I were in a car last night with my brother, his wife and my grandmother’s 91 year old cousin. As seems to happen a lot recently, Marie Kondo came up and after offering a brief synopsis of our understanding of her method my brother succinctly responded “I’m not talking to my old shoes.”. Earlier in the evening my sister in law discussed selling some of the vintage clothing that she had acquired years ago from her grandmother. She talked about a pair of pumps from the 1940’s that she loved but realistically doubted she would ever wear again. I mentioned that I had worn a fur cape that had been my grandmother’s to a wedding last winter. I’ve often heard that if you have something in your closet you have not worn in a year that you should discard it, with some organizers suggesting that at the start of each year you hook everything in your closet backwards on a hanger and after wearing it rehang it normally to give you an indicator as to what is not worn that year. I’ll acknowledge I don’t wear grandma’s fur annually and will also tell you if you check my closet in five years, it’s still going to be there!

Stopping back at their house after our outing my sister in-law showed me some other items that she and my brother were ready to part with. That’s how, over forty years after his death my Grandpa’s fedora from the Dayton’s Men’s shop ended up at my house. I may not be my brother’s keeper but he has been the keeper of my Grandpa’s hat and now it’s my turn.

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Grandpa’s Hat

My husband and I come from two different families when it comes to passing along of family items. Even as a kid I received things that had belonged to grandparents and other relatives; a locket that had been my grandmother’s as a child, a shelf from my mother’s childhood bedroom (which hangs in my living room near the desk that was my maternal grandmother’s). My high school and college wardrobe consisted of many vintage items that had originally belonged to my grandmothers or a great aunt. I have paintings and sketches done by my paternal great grandmother, they hang near art created by my brother and my own children. My husband’s parents kept everything they had ever acquired, their possessions being distributed only after the death of one and the other being in a nursing home for over a year. It always struck me as a little bit sad that they were never able to see their own children enjoy the things they had accumulated over their lifetime. I am thankful that my children and extended family have dined using the dishes and utensils that past generations of my side of the family used and having both practical and decorative items in the home that have prompted the sharing of stories about people my own kids would never have the chance to meet.

Like my own father, I think it’s important to use things. So flowers go in the Limoges urn that belonged to his mother and the crystal salt and pepper shakers that were wedding gifts to my parents are always out. Candle wax is on the sets of silver candlesticks, because they get used.

Perhaps I am looking at the “KonMari Method” all wrong, maybe I just experience more joy than most. While I don’t qualify for an intervention on an episode of the show Hoarders, I acknowledge that I (like my brothers) enjoy stuff. While I have highlighted family heirlooms and antiquities, it’s not necessarily the age or sentimental value of an item that elicits joy in me. An item off a clearance rack, something from a Target end cap, a card from a friend, a ticket stub from a concert or a play…joy, joy, joy!

A Facebook post from a friend yesterday had her getting rid of a mug from two marriages and a lifetime ago and creating a space to increase the ease of using her family China. My first thought was for her to take that mug to the school she works at and place it on her desk with freshly sharpened pencils in it. I frequently use items for purposes other than what they were originally intended. For many years I used an antique pewter pitcher to hold my hair brushes. I use a sugar and creamer on my vanity to hold mascara and cosmetic brushes. I have a crystal champagne chiller filled with lipsticks and glosses, as I have more frequent occasions to color my lips than I do to have champagne flow over them. I use teapots to put flowers in and vases and glassware to hold candles. As I write this I’m within arm’s length of one of many cookie jars I own. The current snowman is from a second hand store, it holds dog food, thereby bringing joy to me and my rescue dogs. Bananas sit on a tiered alabaster stand that my kids remember from their grandparent’s dining room. While it may not necessarily translate to joy, it evokes memories of a time and place they will never be again.

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I was just a couple of years younger than Marie Kondo when my mother moved from my childhood home. I was living on-site at my place of employment with a good chunk of my worldly possessions already being stored in boxes in my best friend’s basement. I had neither the dedicated space nor the necessary time to rummage through the remnants of my childhood or to fully grasp the permanence of my separation from some items such as numerous family Bibles (which chronicled the births, baptisms, weddings and deaths of generations preceding me) my own journals and other artifacts of my ancestors or simply trinkets from my youth.

While my brothers and I all actually have plenty of what we consider to be family treasures, I still on occasion regret not having many of the items that are now in the homes of strangers or buried in a landfill somewhere. It was only last year while digging through a box that I discovered a small leather-bound journal that chronicled my Irish immigrant grandfather’s final year in Ireland and his early days in the United States. My adult daughter has enjoyed discovering the family history as she transcribes his words written 95 years ago. My hope is that Marie does not regret “thanking ” the concert t-shirts of her youth and discarding them. Not until my own children were teenagers did I regret that decision in what seemed like the grownup thing to do at that time. Fair warning Marie there will be things you will regret not having to share with others down the road.

During dinner last night my Grandmother’s cousin articulated (from the perspective of someone with the wisdom of over ninety years behind her) that at age 40 she did not value the possessions she would have valued at 60 and still today. She specifically recalled a desire for the new and current. The things she cherishes have changed throughout the years and she enjoys TBT photos that my brothers and I post to our Facebook accounts because they chronicle our childhoods, a time when she was living out of state and was out of touch with local family. While I am not advocating hanging onto every item that one has ever owned, I am saddened by the risk that comes with thinking everything is disposable and replaceable while knowing from experience that simply is not true. If I combine my age with that of my grandmother’s cousin, we have more than an additional century and a decade of life experience than Marie Kondo has. Who do you want to believe, us or her?

There are times that people “lose everything” through floods, fires or needing to escape a situation. While it’s true that life is not merely about possessions and that experiences and the memories that go with them are what make us who we are there is value in possessions beyond a monetary one. You see what people value when they grab items during a fire or pack a car during an evacuation or by what they choose to carry with them as they flee their homeland.

I thought perhaps my stance on this was a cultural difference but oddly one of the few things I know about Japanese culture strikes me as being in direct conflict with Marie’s school of thought. Kintsugi the centuries-old Japanese custom of fixing broken pottery with gold, also called Kintsukori which translates to “Golden Mend”. It is as visually beautiful as it is symbolic.

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As an interesting and timely side note, close family friends have a son who is going to share the experience of a lifetime with his girlfriend when they travel to Japan later this month. In researching the history of a centuries old Japanese sword his family had been given, contact was made with the original owner’s lineage. While I would imagine that an item like this is quite valuable in a collectors market, the owner recognized the true value and this impending trip is to return the sword to the family of origin. While the gifting of the item will bring joy, the receiving of the treasured possession of an ancestor will certainly bring joy as well. It’s fantastic that this antiquity will return to Japan because despite having passed through many hands nobody along the way chose to recycle the materials it was made of or discard it as a relic of a past era.

At a recent bridal shower I gifted a pin that my grandmother gave me 50 years ago, thinking that her great granddaughter should have something of hers. While I’d worn the pin at various times throughout my life, it had also spent a great deal of time in a jewelry box. Rather than thinking of things as being ours to keep or discard, perhaps we’d be better served to think of ourselves as the keeper of items and then relinquishing them with a sense of intent to a new keeper who can choose their future path of ownership. Somehow that feels more purposeful. I’m thankful that I had not put some timeline of use on it in my thirties, nor had I devalued it because it’s considered “costume jewelry” or discarded it because it might not have seemed fashionable by standards of the day. I had hung onto it, fondly remembering the day I had received it and treasuring it more after my grandmother died one summer while I was in elementary school. It makes me wonder if Marie’s parents and grandparents are still alive, if she has ever had the experience of coming across a handwritten note of someone who will never write another note or a photograph of someone who won’t be in another picture. Sometimes the value and appreciation of something is heightened by the knowledge that there will be no more.

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My grandmother’s pin

While there are appropriate times to discard the things of the past, or acknowledge that a possession has outlived it’s usefulness to you as the owner, I caution you to not simply dispose of things as part of a fad or for a temporary feeling of accomplishment. A good practice for those seeking a more minimalist existence would be to monitor the new that you want to bring into your setting before you dispose of something that you will long for later or wish that you had to pass along to someone who might find meaning in it.

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The Online Persona – Real People and Fictional Lives

I am fascinated by people. Not in the cliché job interview response “I’m a people person” sort of way that was second only to “thinking outside the box” for annoying answers during my decades of hiring people. Though socially I am comfortable among strangers, both in groups and one-on-one situations, for most of my life I have found myself most intrigued by people I didn’t interact with at all. Perhaps living across the street from a library as a child is what honed my capacity to develop an entire fictionalized scenario around a stranger seated near me in a restaurant or in the crosswalk while I’m stopped at a red light.

While I recognize that it’s entirely unfair to judge a book by it’s cover, my years of observation on the most basic level divide people into two camps; those who are very aware of wanting to make a certain impression and those who wish to go about their daily lives anonymously. Obviously there are many subcategories and I believe that people easily transition fluidly between these two states of being; the person who wants to be watched on the dancefloor at the club on Saturday night but wishes to be unseen at the gas station in their pajamas the following morning. It’s persona management.

To be clear, I’m not making assumptions about people in a judgmental way, what I do is develop an entire screenplay in my mind where these strangers are just actors. My favorite location for casting calls is the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a rich environment for pretending you are watching a first meeting from an online dating site between the outstate hayseed and the apparent cosmetology student who thought stiletto heels were a good idea for hours of walking dusty streets dotted with deep-fried  debris. Perhaps they’re really just siblings from North St. Paul, then again maybe he was her Uber driver to the Fair. No cost entertainment. Clearly, I recognize that the qualities and scenarios I attribute to these folks are merely a part of my fruitful imagination and not in anyway fact-based.

My brothers have had front row seats to my vivid imagination throughout my life, being the early observers to my imaginary friends and can attest to my lifelong attention to detail. While my memory of actual events and situations are keen, they would likely report that an ability to spin a yarn out of thin air is a well developed trait of mine as well.

I’ve done this since I was a kid and over the years figured out whom among my friends also enjoy this pastime. Fortunately my husband and I discovered early in our relationship that it’s a “skill” we both possess. Maybe it’s less productive than knitting or crocheting as a hobby but it’s budget friendly and nothing ends up in a landfill!

After a lifetime of observing people either in person or on TV, social media has provided me with endless access to source material and has been a real game changer. Almost like online gaming, you can play along with others that are not physically with you, like a “virtual” trip to the mall. The difference with social media is that it’s often not total strangers but friends (or more often acquaintances) who offer fragments of their life in sometimes detailed or cryptic posts with the intent of engaging others in their real or perceived drama. While most people post about events from celebrations to meals or family members (from pets to grandchildren) that are transparent and exactly what they say they are, others participate in crafting a desired persona that seems far from reality.

As someone who acknowledges their fascination with people (see opening statement) I’m curious as to how this relatively new form of communication and documentation of what will eventually be history will play out. I doubt that more liars exist now statistically than in the past. The difference is that now it’s harder for people to tell a whopper and simply deny it later. It doesn’t take a forensic expert to unearth discrepancies in a person’s online crafted persona. Whereas this habit of mine with strangers in the past was simply a harmless pastime, the online version of observations allows for others to speculate along with me regarding the motivation behind such posts.

In past blogs I have talked about familial situations, either with my father when I was a child or with my own kids where we intentionally offered a false trail of breadcrumbs to allow strangers to have fun at our expense. As a bored kid in the back of the family station wagon I would sometimes grab the phone handset my father had with his tools (as an electrician he would use it on new phone lines to ensure they were live) and pretend to be deep in conversation. While talking on the phone in a car is not at all unusual now, in the early ’70s it got quite a bit of attention! When my brother’s and I were cleaning out our childhood home we decided to leave an old China salt shaker in the dining room chandelier for the next owner to discover and fill in the blanks as to how they imagined it might have gotten there. Amusement and entertainment were the only objective, no deep need for acceptance or approval from others.

It’s a different “game” when looking at the posts of people you shared a neighborhood with, attended school with or have worked with. Basically your shared history calls into question what you see as their false claims and exaggerations. When their statement of fact is in direct conflict with your own recollections of the same events, individuals or experiences it makes one question the validity and motivation behind their claims. When musing about strangers one has no insight or shared past to base assumptions on in the way that you do with people you actually have knowledge of. My guess is that perhaps with no nefarious intent, in most cases we each actually are recalling what our experience was, even when those recollections appear to be polar opposites. This fascinates me and based upon responses to these posts, Messenger messages and texts from others, I am not the only one. I am entertained by friends who send me a snarky retort to what they see as an outlandish post and direct me to it. Much like a book club (with less of a commitment) we discuss the author’s motivation and even try to determine if the genre is History, Biography, Romance Novel or Fiction. It becomes sort of a validation to compare notes and verify our own truths.

As an extrovert with too much time on my hands I have utilized social media as a way to engage with all sorts of people that my life has overlapped with. I will acknowledge that from Facebook to Instagram and via my WordPress blog I have crafted my own persona based upon my reality. I like to think that it accurately reflects who I am and what I’m doing but also recognize the vulnerability that comes with sharing my thoughts and opinions on everything from my daily life to current events. I guess my own observations are perhaps the fodder of speculation for others who are asking each other “What’s wrong with her?”.

I am aware that while speculating with online friends has become a broader platform to discuss (at what times seems like bizarre behavior from) mutual online acquaintances that perhaps there is a different sort of obligation that comes with this format. At what point should one go from amusement to concern? How do you differentiate the angry rants from actual threats? Is there a way to figure out if someone is harmlessly venting or in crisis? It’s not lost on me that when a crime is committed that law enforcement and curious individuals now utilize social media to unearth clues. In some cases psychotic individuals post long rambling admissions prior to an event as a means of justifying their actions. It’s almost as though your social media footprint is another form of DNA, it tells others so much about you. Like a detective dealing with evidence one pieces together clues to try to make sense of a situation.

Whether isolated and lonely or balanced and socially active, it appears that online engagement is a way to draw others closer or in some cases push them away. I see it as a way to keep in touch, an efficient means of communication, a way to make someone in another country laugh, a place for sharing a memory and a venue to offer support and encouragement. Primarily I find it to be a source of entertainment.

I love keeping up and catching up, as well as rediscovering people from my past. I appreciate that the woman in another state who participated in the adoption of my beagle puppies and the local woman who fostered them can watch them grow and participate and comment on their antics. It’s fun being connected to a virtual fan club of mostly strangers via a page for a local athletic team. A decade ago I enjoyed political exchanges more than I do today, many having gone from civil discourse to personal attacks. I appreciated the large readership when a blog I wrote about a lunch with childhood friends was passed along through the network and people reached out with supportive feedback and someone printed hard copies so others who aren’t tech savvy could have access to it as well.

My generation comes from an era where communication consisted of notes passed between classes. When we got older and were no longer in arm’s length of our friends we had to rely upon letters and long-distance phone calls. These requirements kept our social circles fairly tight. With social media we are now “friends” with siblings of people we know, far flung relations, people we simply shared a lunchroom with in high school, actual strangers we share a common interest with. A number of years ago a man in another state messaged me to unravel the mystery of three mutual friends we shared. He attended college with one in Wisconsin, had worked with one in Michigan and the third woman who was considerably younger than us lives in his current hometown. Turns out I had worked with the one he had gone to college with, gone to college with the one he’d worked with and I’d been a supervisor (during her college years) to the one living in his community. Oddly, these overlapping friendships have me interacting with him more frequently than he does with his original friends.

While wildly popular with advertisers and organizations as a way to shape opinions and drive traffic to their causes and products, social media returns me to my most basic instincts. I’m the little girl who found sanctuary at the Linden Hills Library. I take the little clues posted like those in a Helen Fuller Orton novel and much like her own work (which I devoured as a child) create a piece of fiction which may include some historical basis.  Seemingly, others opt to do the work for me and fictionalize their own postings. When people message me regarding a particularly peculiar post the comment with it is often “you can’t make this shit up!” and my response is simply “I don’t have to, they already did.”.

Feel free to reach out with your own musings and insights on this topic (if you are not already part of my social media analysis posse). Whether you know me or not, try your best to keep it real when you are posting, chances are if you don’t remember your own past that others do and no amount of false posturing or unfounded claims is going to make a positive impression. Quite the opposite. While I enjoy the entertainment of super sleuthing there are enough phonies out there already to keep me amused.

 

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Uncategorized

HERE WE ARE AS IN OLDEN DAYS:

As my husband wandered the back yard cleaning up after our two dogs the other day, I jokingly inquired “Do you think I should mow before Christmas?”. Two months ago, prior to Halloween, our backyard was blanketed in snow and it looked like we might have six months of winter here in Minnesota. This week it’s been unseasonably warm, the roads have been dry and until a light dusting of snow arrived last night, it appeared we would have a brown Christmas.
Christmas arrives annually based upon the calendar, not the weather. Christmas comes not as the result of the cookies that have been baked or the appetizers that are prepared. With two puppies in the house Christmas is coming in a couple of days without a large real or artificial tree this year. While I may miss some of the traditions that come with trimming the tree, such as asking the kids “Why do we put a piece of conduit on the tree?” so they can respond in unison “Because grandpa was an electrician!” the memories of the people who are no longer physically part of our annual celebration will remain and wash over me in the days ahead.
Somewhere among the old VHS tapes in my house is a video of Christmas 1988. My brothers and I (along with our significant others) are playing Jenga in the kitchen of our childhood home. It captures the first Christmas after my husband and I met and a few months prior to our wedding. It shows my parents laughing, my father wearing a sweater I had gifted him on a prior Christmas, none of us aware that it would be his last Christmas with us.
As I write this, my husband of nearly three decades is sleeping with the two dogs that we have acquired since last year. A year ago he was sleeping with a dog that was the last of the pets of our own children’s youth. My son is asleep in his childhood bedroom, having taken the train in from Chicago where he has moved since last year. Christmas reminds us that despite traditions, each year changes us. Thirty years ago I lived in Wisconsin, one of my brothers lived here in Minnesota and the other called Texas home. This year we all live in the states we were born in, my eldest brother will be joining us from his lakeside Wisconsin home. Our own children will be gathering and partaking of traditions that have always been part of their lives but were began by relatives they never met.

1988.jpg

The Rose clan (literally descendants of a Scottish clan whose damp-looking castle still remains) will congregate for Christmas breakfast at 9 am on Christmas morning, as we have always done. Early photographs of my life capture this event at my paternal grandfather’s little pink house in Golden Valley Minnesota, then my childhood home. After the passing of my father, a few gatherings occurred at hotel venues and eventually we fell into a rotation of hosting the traditional breakfasts with our own offspring in our homes. While the menu varies and nobody serves burnt bacon like Grandpa did, we will have egg nog and there will be pomegranates. The tradition of a small gift or candy cane at each place at the table has grown into “table gifts” that are either practical, funny, thoughtful or “D. All of the above”.

Grandpa

This will be the twentieth Christmas with the youngest of “the cousins” present and we’ll welcome a guest from Germany to the fold as my brother’s family has an AFS student living with them.

Christmas Eve will look different this year. With my daughter and I both working shifts that day, we will gather for the first time without extended family. If tradition is the thread that weaves all our holidays together like strung popcorn, this year is a cranberry, the bead on the string that looks different in form than the many  lined up before it. Much like when I was a kid and transitioned from celebrating at home by opening a single gift to spending it with my best friend’s family and going to Midnight Mass. I have great memories of Christmas open houses shared at the home of family friends replete with champagne toasts. With marriage came visits to my in-laws on Christmas Eve and watching our nephew while the others went to Mass. By the time we had children of our own we were trading off hosting Christmas Eve and for the last decade as family dynamics and health have changed, we have opened our home to whomever wished to join us for holiday merriment.

Much like a snowflake, while they may appear similar, no two Christmases are the same. Each year I am surprised by the contentment the season brings, the satisfaction found in finding the right gift, creating a new recipe, time spent with those we don’t see enough of. I love the cards that arrive that share both the highs and lows of the previous year in the lives of those we care about.

What I enjoy more than any gift or confection is unpacking the memories, much like one takes out the precious ornaments that we have gathered throughout our lifetime. I remember sledding with my cousins down my grandparents long rural driveway with bread bags in our boots. I recall that warm feeling that came from eating my aunts rum balls as a kid. There was the Christmas spent at the family cabin with two new snowmobiles that my brothers were not aware that we were getting. The first big secret I was “in on”. I recall spending a Christmas Eve at my best friend’s cousin’s home where the number of kids was outnumbered only by the variety of cookies available. Each year there are more people I miss and  traditions that pass. My kids no longer make wish lists, I no longer select their outfits and it’s been years since I have stood in line with anyone to visit Santa. Like measuring kids on a door jamb, there comes a last time, you don’t realize it as it occurs, only upon reflection. Those “lasts” are more precious when looking back than they ever were as they took place.

There are also favorite gifts that I remember, the year my daughter got her certificate to acquire a puppy of her own, the time Santa gifted a family trip to Disney World. Both of those memorable gifts coming in the form of books on the topic. There was the year I gave my husband a new car and the many years that the kids selected heart shaped jewelry for me. The practical, the extravagant, the homemade and the store bought, the ones that were asked for and the ones you’d never dreamed of. Each of them precious, not for what they were but because of who they were from.

As I busy myself with holiday preparations and look forward to time spent with family I enjoy the familiarity of seasonal movies, childhood TV programs, traditional carols and holiday pop tunes from years gone by that I now consider classics. While my days of kids in pageants and concerts are behind me in the same way that sending gifts to their teachers has ended, there are new opportunities each year to fill the voids created by the passage of time. Among my favorite lyrics from a Christmas song is the poignant reminder  “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow.” So enjoy the joy this year, even if it doesn’t look the same as last year. It’s my hope for you that it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

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childhood, Uncategorized

Odd Jobs

People who know me are aware that in December of 2012, after nineteen and a half years at a position I loved (heading a program I had developed and grown) my work world changed dramatically on a Monday morning. The company had been operating somewhat in limbo for a few years after the death of the company’s owner, being run by a trio of trustees who opted to dissolve the trust and pass along ownership to a designated Foundation. I had been scheduled to have my first meeting with my new supervisor who I was anxious to share ideas with regarding changes that might be implemented to improve the operations of the student housing complex and the residential life program it housed.

Working in a college community, this had traditionally been among my favorite times of year, third only to staff selection and staff training week. I enjoyed it because of the traditions of purchasing Christmas trees for the building’s lobbies and decorating them with lights and candy canes that residents and guests were encouraged to take. The night prior to this meeting I had hosted my staff of live-in employees for a holiday meal and gift exchange. A favorite activity of mine was purchasing a book and writing a personal inscription in it for each of my employees. Over the years I had purchased hundreds of books that reflected the hobbies, interests, majors, career aspirations, or simply the humor of those I worked with. Each a memento with a message as unique as they were as individuals, intended to show my appreciation for their work. During this annual ritual I would verbally thank the group for their commitment and acknowledge that working for a company that operates 365 days a year requires sacrifice and hopefully a shared holiday meal with coworkers would not only prepare them for impending finals but also soften the disappointment of missing out on some of their own annual traditions. Somewhere among my things I have cards of appreciation from over the years that reflect that this gesture was as important to many of my workers as it was to me. Six years ago last Sunday, the event wrapped up about 9:30 pm.

The next morning at 9:30 am was my first meeting with my new supervisor and I was surprised by the presence of another person who was employed by the Foundation. It quickly became evident that they was not interested in maintaining the program that the Foundation had been gifted, viewing it only as a real estate asset and I was told to turn my keys in that Friday. It was then that I realized that even the wishes of a multi-billionaire don’t need to be honored once they are deceased. Not only did I have less than a week to pack up an office of nearly twenty years but I needed to step down from the  business association I was serving my sixth term as president of and leave behind numerous associations, boards and committees in the community I had been an integral part of as well.

My eldest was a sophomore in college, preparing for a semester in Europe and my youngest was a high school senior who had already been accepted to college. This new reality was not only a shock to me but to them as well. I had started my employment as a live-in Resident Director when my daughter was just nine months old and we lived on-site during the birth of my son who came home from the hospital less than 24-hours after he was born. My work had not simply been a job but a lifestyle and the only one my kids had known. While our health insurance ended, the household income was slashed in half and the tradition of summer cookouts and holiday celebrations with my team abruptly ended there was also concern for how my staff members would fare in my absence. Hiring, training and developing University of Minnesota students for work opportunities beyond college had always been a top priority of my role.

Now that the history of how my un(der)employment has been covered I can share some of the amusing tales of what has been the most challenging six years of my life. Last year I had six W2 forms to earn about 10% of my previous salary. While financially this has been a devastating period for me and my family, it has also been an opportunity to appreciate what we have. Having both integrity and a sense of humor has perhaps made this easier for me but it has been a truly wild ride that can best be summed up with “you can’t make this stuff up!’. So fasten your seatbelts and prepare to be entertained by what opportunities have come and gone over the past six years.

I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the many people who have reached out with potential contacts, suggested employers and supportive suggestions. At an age where I am keenly aware of what my skills and assets are, I am also aware of what is not a good fit for me. While nothing has lead to what I refer to as “my next big girl job” I truly have appreciated every idea and offer that has been passed my way. The following are but a sampling of “Odd Jobs” not in the sense of occasional work (which some have been) but as in truly peculiar!

I’m going to dive in by starting with what is surely one of the most whirlwind bizarre opportunities I was given about five years ago. A friend put me in touch with a consultant that the large corporation she worked for frequently used. I was to meet her at 1:00 pm at a coffee shop in St. Paul. I met with a high school friend that morning for breakfast as the weather began to deteriorate into the first significant snowfall of the season. Rather than return home between breakfast and my meeting, I ran some errands and gave myself an adequate amount of time to get to the designated location and order myself some coffee. Once seated I texted the contact to let her know I had arrived and where I was seated. I immediately got a response “I left a message on your home phone regarding a change of location.”. So I transferred my beverage to a to-go cup and headed to the new meeting place where she introduced me to two college interns in suits. She explained that they were preparing a bid for hosting the World’s Fair and was hoping to use me for some communications work. She was taking calls, responding to texts and emails and instructed me to meet them at a building adjacent to the State Capital. The road conditions were now beyond horrendous, I basically slid over to the meeting place and found metered parking, climbed a snow bank and met up with the interns in a hallway. The woman explained that they would be filming a Russian delegation and I was to have them sign waivers permitting use of photographs and film from the event. As equipment was being set up I was shown to a table where I was given a pad of paper to take notes of the meeting. We were all instructed to silence our phones. In what seems like an almost dreamlike scenario, I was introduced to the Secretary of State and then a number of Russian visitors were introduced and seated at an adjacent table. I furiously documented the entire meeting from their review of their trip earlier in the day to the Mayo Clinic to the Secretary of State sharing the horrific story of the death of his daughter due to an accident with a drunk driver. Midway through the nearly two-hour event a cell phone (belonging to the consultant I was “working” for) rang on the table I was seated at, I silenced it while getting a dirty look from the Secretary of State. As the meeting ended, we regrouped in the hallway and I was instructed to send the meeting minutes and my hours to the consultant. It was the last exchange I had with her. I sensed that perhaps the Secretary of State instructed her to have nothing to do with the woman who left her phone on during the meeting and she never owned up to it being her own phone. I am the only person I know who has had a an uncompensated gig documenting Russians in a meeting with the Secretary of State. My only regret was not at least getting reimbursed for my parking.

From the moment my job ended I made it very public that I was looking for work and eventually a high school classmate reached out with what he described as an opportunity “beneath my skill set and pay scale” that I could do remotely for his Washington-based company. For two years I checked my email nightly and reformatted resumes to a specific company criteria and had them back to them by opening the following day. While the work was exacting, it was not difficult and I appreciated not only the income but additional insights regarding resume formatting which I have used in helping friends and family in their job searches as well. Eventually he sold the company which ended the opportunity.

A few years ago another high school friend suggested that a temporary gig working for a local business run by another graduate from our high school might be a good fit for me. That is how I began selling dog bandanas at a Minnesota State Fair booth (a position my husband affectionately refers to as “barking for the Yak woman!” a nod to the career trajectory of Cousin Eddie’s son in the movie Christmas Vacation). As an extrovert, I enjoy talking to customers and as a dog lover I never grow tired of hearing about the recipients of the amusing and clever bandanas or legendary Dog Biscuits on a Stick. As a Minnesotan I appreciate the tradition of the Fair and it’s been a great place to annually meet up with people from all areas of my life; with visits from a high school friend who resides in Hawaii, a college friend visiting from California, old neighbors who now live in North Dakota and many others. The accompanying photograph is from this year when the parents of two of my former staff members stopped by the booth for a visit. Not only available at The Great Minnesota Get Together, treat your canine friends and family members with gifts available at http://www.fundogbandanas.com

Currently I am overlapping a couple of seasonal positions. Wrapping up a season at a local garden center that closes when Christmas tree season ends and starting out a season at the local ski hill where I work in the retail shop and food court. There is an irony that I neither garden (beyond containers, hanging baskets and window boxes) or ski (I can fall pretty well on my own driveway which is flat) but I do enjoy talking to people and welcome the chance to work alongside high school and college students, as well as retirees. Both locations offer ample room for a favorite pastime which is simply the observation of people. While the State Fair is the epicenter of people watching, the ski hill allows for me to watch the awkwardness of budding middle school romances and the garden center has its own supply of amusing regulars. It’s certainly not the kind of work you take home with you and if I were to put a notch in my belt every time a customer said “Well it must be free!” when an item doesn’t register on the till or is missing a tag, my pants would be at my ankles. Every position leaves me with some sort of insight, be it profound or mundane. My most recent epiphany being that pine needles are merely “nature’s glitter”, equal parts beautiful to look at and annoying to deal with.

While nothing I have done over the past six years has truly utilized my skill set or provided me with any real challenges or growth opportunity, there is one job that I am literally reminded of daily that I found to be particularly soul-sucking. A temp agency hooked me up with a “Brand Ambassador” position which is a glorified name for “Consumer Harasser”. As someone who dislikes being approached while shopping, I found myself in the unseemly position of being the perpetrator of that very activity. After many hours of online training provided me with more information about a dog food brand than I ever cared to know, I worked shifts at various pet store chains, wandering the aisles and suggesting reasons that pet owners should try “my brand”. My shift ended with the completion of “call reports”, including all interactions and documentation of the “conversions” I’d made during my shift. While I enjoyed interacting with people and their pets I often found that the most rewarding part of my days were cleaning up the occasional accident of a puppy or senior dog, as it seemed to provide me with the greatest sense of accomplishment. The most awkward part of the role was the training with a ten-year veteran, which took place in the back storage area of one of the stores. The location had a motion sensor for the lights which meant every ten minutes my trainer and I were plunged into darkness, which caused him to spontaneously rise from his chair and flail his arms to trigger the lights. My company shirt and name tag never came, despite the reminder I submitted with each time sheet. The promised lap top for company use also did not materialize. It was work I did not look forward to, often scheduled over Viking’s games. This meant not only was I missing the game but that few people were in the stores. The upside to the job was I got a lot of steps in, occasionally ran into people I knew and interacting with the representatives from other brands, who were easily identifiable by their company shirts or lab coats (I needed to report which ones were present on my end of shift paperwork). I eventually found out why my own insignia wardrobe never was sent, the brand was changing temp agencies. I can think of only one previous job I was happier to have end. It’s been over a year now and I still get a DAILY reminder to submit “late call reports” and the automated request can’t be responded to, so I have that to look forward to for the rest of my life. While the temp agency was quick to find another dog food brand for me to rep, I simply could not justify using any more of my memory-capacity to retain ingredients, kibble sizes or other pet food jargon! A career move that went to the dogs.

I’ve often mentioned to people that one of the hardest parts of being out of work is that unlike when you are employed, there is no “time off”. You go to bed unemployed, you sleep unemployed and you wake up unemployed. It’s all-consuming and not quite the “extended vacation” that those working imagine it would be. The world keeps turning, the bills keep coming, people are born, while others die. There are weddings, there are graduations and anniversaries. The milestones continue but you remain somewhat frozen in a state of the unknown. In no way am I implying that I have been living in an endless sea of misery, in fact events and occasions to look forward to have been highlights of this period of my life.

Girls weekends and cabin getaways have provided me some “normalcy”. During one such occasion, a trip to my best friends cabin (a year ago this fall) we sat fireside while she scrolled through neighborhood websites where she had often found used furnishings for her lake place. She came upon a listing for a person near her community who was looking for what can best be described as personal assistant. She contacted the person with my information and the following week after a phone conversation I went to meet with her. I located the somewhat remote home and pulled up to the three car garage. I sat at the island in the beautiful kitchen while she went over the contents of a file folder which listed some of the things she needed assistance with. She then toured me through the lovely home where I was fascinated by the idea of having enough space in a Master closet for a washing machine and dryer. In the lower level were the bedrooms of her two teenaged daughters and across the hall their own laundry room. As she showed me the indoor swimming pool we exited through the adjacent bathroom which had an additional washer and dryer. The palatial home had a complete downstairs kitchen as well. Her husband owned a company and she homeschooled their youngest daughter and managed the books for the family business. They spent their winters in Florida and she suggested that perhaps I could collect their mail, check on the pool and perform other tasks in their absence over the winter months.

After reviewing her needs I set about tackling the tasks at hand; contracting a dumpster, booking a plumber to install a garbage disposal, arranging to have the carpets cleaned, contacting the pool company for cleaning and maintenance. I then moved on to organization of the pantry, cleaning of the refrigerator (it’s the third week of October, so I got rid of the meat that had expired in July). She asked if I could move my car so she could get out and asked that I park in front of her husband’s garage door in the future as he left for work by six a.m. daily and was rarely home before 10 p.m. I then watched as she headed out for lunch in her Maserati. Her homeschooled daughter took off on a four-wheeler to take care of her horses. I then moved on to breaking down boxes from Amazon, not simply a few but perhaps thirty. After that I went down to the piano room where she suggested some things be pulled out to go in the dumpster that I had ordered. All of the boxes and wrapping paper from Christmas the previous year were there and some gift bags with items still in them and a beautiful two piece dress which I hauled upstairs and placed on a table. The daughter returned and said she needed cash for gas and then called her mother. So I gave the 13-year-old a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and wondered to myself if it was even legal for her to pump gas or be on the road. I was starting to experience the same dreamlike weirdness I had experienced while chronicling Russians meeting with the Secretary of State.

Eventually the daughter returned, a brother inlaw dropped off some neices for piano lessens, a piano teacher arrived and the oldest daughter returned home from school. None of them seemed to find it unusual at all that a stranger was in the kitchen, as though it were totally normal for an unknown person to be present in the home.

By the end of the day the mother had returned and wondered where I had found her daughter’s Homecoming dress that was lying on the table. “In the piano room armoire with the discarded Christmas wrapping paper”. I had also created a menu for dinner the following day and suggested to her that I grocery shop on my way over the next morning, which she agreed was a good idea.

The following morning I headed to the store and texted her at 8:45 that I was on my way. I let myself in and she shouted from the master bedroom “I’ll be out in a few minutes!’. I cleared the breakfast dishes, met the plumber and got him the “spare” garbage disposal from their Florida home that was in the hallway closet and set about prepping the white chili to go in the crockpot. I then met the dumpster delivery driver and made several trips from the garage with the boxes from the previous day. The youngest daughter and a cousin came into the kitchen and began making slime with glue, food coloring and glitter. By noon, with still no sign of the mother emerging from the Master the girls asked if I would make them pizza, which I did. Midway through day two and I’d seen no sign of “homeschooling”. By 1:00 the mother emerged and I updated her on the status of the day and she promptly left for lunch with the eldest niece. I was uncertain if I should feel flattered or concerned that she so nonchalantly left her daughter and niece with a virtual stranger or that they were seemingly so comfortable with the situation as well. I set about prepping side dishes for the evening meal. Upon the mother’s late afternoon return she grabbed her checkbook and wrote me a check for the groceries, the gas money and my sixteen hours of work and said “I’m meeting with a couple of other people who responded to the ad.” Somewhat perplexed, I left and the only contact I’ve had since was twice when I texted her to let her know “Your pool service is on their way” and remind her that all furnishings needed to be moved in the basement because the carpet cleaners were scheduled.

Nice work if you can get it. Albeit brief as it was!

So the search continues and as I often told my employment counselor “every day when I wake up brings me one day closer to my next job!”. Perhaps my next blog will be about the things I have applied for and the interviews I have had, the jobs I was excited about and didn’t land.

In the meantime don’t hesitate to send me job opportunities suitable for a creative, good-humored extrovert!

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Blogging, childhood, Uncategorized

Ramblin Rose – musings from a full mind

jukebox

 

I have not made a blog post in a few months. I have started several but life and the accompanying distractions get in the way of completing them. However, my mind is a pinball machine of thoughts and ideas, each of which I could flesh-out into a full blog if time and focus permitted.

As I turned 55, I decided to do for myself what I had done for others at milestone birthdays or events. I created a list. The following are 55 things I have either learned, observed, believe or have been amused (or frustrated) by over the past 55 years. You may agree, disagree, or simply not understand them. That’s okay, you can make your own list!

  1. I’ve learned more by engaging with people I don’t agree with than from those I do. Don’t surround yourself with only like-minded people.
  2. You get to choose your attitude every day, not always your circumstances.
  3. A Jukebox holds memories in the same way a photo album does. The songs are the pictures and capture the essence of your memories or perhaps take you to a place or time you’ve never actually experienced.
  4. My kids learned more from our providing food and shelter to a homeless veteran than they ever would have by us writing a check to a Veteran’s organization or carrying a sign at a rally. Thoughtfully modeling your opinions creates more impact than shouting your opinion ever will.
  5. Sarcasm is a gift that allows you to convey a message to the amusement of others and the confusion of those who would never “get it” if you were direct with them.
  6. Children are not intended to fulfill your dreams they are to be supported and encouraged to pursue their own.
  7. The most important investments in life aren’t financial at all. While fortunes may turn, your experiences and memories can never be repossessed!
  8. You don’t attend a funeral to honor the person who died, you attend as a show of support to the living.
  9. If someone is truly sorry, accept their apology. Forgive but don’t forget.
  10. Talk to strangers. You likely know someone they do or have something in common with them or can learn something from each other.
  11. I told my children from a young age “The worst thing you can lose is your imagination.” I further explained that while there are correct answers to some things that creativity and thinking differently than others, seeing things from a new perspective is where literally every innovation, invention and cure has come from.
  12. Not teaching cursive is a horrible idea. Connections in the brain will go unstimulated that create necessary pathways. Someday people will pay tuition to learn cursive at the college level so they can read historical documents or even the handwritten letters of their loved ones. How sad to think of future generations unable to read the founding documents of our nation. When you are unable to read something, you can be told it says anything.
  13. While politics create organized infrastructure for how things are done, they aren’t intended to be the dividing line between who we like and don’t like.
  14. ACT and SAT scores are only indicators of how well people take tests. They do not measure intelligence, a person’s aptitude or how well a person will do in life or succeed in college.
  15. The Minnesota Boys State High School Hockey Tournament is the greatest annual sporting event! Epic rivalries, youth playing with the kids they grew up with, a rich history and damn good hockey!
  16. Ugly is on the inside. When a person shows you their ugly, believe what you observe and recognize their damage is not your issue, they own it.
  17. Traditions are wonderful but so is changing them as situations change, people change and when maintaining them becomes more of a burden than a celebration.
  18. It’s okay for your opinions, views and sentiments to change as your life experience teaches you things.
  19. You are not the axis. The world does not revolve around you. Be cognizant of how your actions and choices impact others.
  20. You don’t have to choose a candidate for every office on a ballot. I have no issue letting others decide about a race in an area I don’t feel strongly about.
  21. It’s perfectly appropriate to advocate for things that don’t personally impact you.
  22. There is an abundance and someone else having something doesn’t necessarily mean you have any less.
  23. Sometimes a line from a movie is a better response than any statement you could craft yourself.
  24. An inside joke isn’t intended to be exclusionary, it is intended to acknowledge a bond forged in a shared history.
  25. While it might be annoying, it really doesn’t matter what someone else thinks of you. What matters is what you know to be true about yourself.
  26. Always acknowledge the kid who boldly wears a costume to a store or other public venue. That Disney princess or super hero may be your president some day.
  27. Invite people new to your community or visiting from abroad to share your Thanksgiving dinner, your July 4th celebration or simply a weekend cookout. It’s the best way to learn (for you and them) about another culture.
  28. Learn to graciously accept a compliment without pointing out some fault you have to counterbalance it.
  29. Friendships are like recipes in a cookbook; some are good, some are bad, old favorites you know by heart, ones that you regularly used to rely on may no longer suit your palate, ones you forgot about resurface and are exactly as you remember them. Ones on pages that have been lost cannot be replaced. Sometimes it’s fun to have several of your favorites together! Some of them are ones that people always associate you with. There are ones you think you might not enjoy but end up loving. A new one is always worth trying. It doesn’t matter if everyone else likes them, only if you enjoy them.
  30. While having a direction to move in is good, life is a trip you don’t get to plan in its entirety. Just like with travel there are unexpected detours, reroutes and pit stops that add to the adventure. There may be places you never planned on going that end up being beautiful destinations and other times the very place you wanted to be is not as charming as you thought it would be.
  31. Who somebody else loves has no real impact on you. Unless someone is in an abusive relationship you don’t need to approve or disapprove, simply accept.
  32. I love bargains, thrifting and repurposing! I find it all gratifying.
  33. It’s never the wrong time to express gratitude or give thanks to someone who has made a positive impact on you or others. As my son completed graduate school by writing the mission statement and vision (for a startup in Barcelona) I reached out to the woman who helped him learn to read and let her know that despite being retired, her work was still making an impact on a global level.
  34. When your order is wrong in a restaurant or the service is slow is not the time to tip your server poorly. Perhaps they have a sick child at home they’ve been up with, maybe they are dealing with an aging parent or are stressed about making rent or a car payment. It could be the result of the kitchen being short-handed. The only time I think it’s appropriate to tip poorly is if the server is rude or dismissive.
  35. Yelling the loudest doesn’t make someone more “right” than the person who simply stated the opposing opinion.
  36. Don’t think a single thing is your life purpose. You will have many purposes, some of your choosing, others you will never even realize, though others will.
  37. Prospective parents think parenting is about having and caring for a baby. It’s actually about having a person to champion throughout the remainder of your life.
  38. Don’t let people tell you that you’re going through “a phase”. It might be true, it might not be. I love the Betsy Tacy books more now than I did in 1968 when my mother began reading the series (from her childhood) to me. They are part of why my daughter was named Betsy.
  39. Yelling at your TV apparently doesn’t change anything about an athletes performance. Yet, I do it anyway and my family is amused by it!
  40. The phrase “Dance like nobody is watching!” was clearly meant for introverts! I say “Dance like everybody is watching” (even when alone) is what the extroverts are thinking. Come on extroverts, admit it, you know it’s what you want!
  41. Ladies only: Can we talk about public restrooms? I don’t imagine at home you squat and firehose urine all over the seat! Please don’t do it in public, you’re the reason others need to squat!
  42. When you have a full cart, let the person with two items go ahead of you. Same goes for the parent with a kid whose cart is fuller than yours.
  43. Don’t assume you understand what someone else is going through, since you never know. Being compassionate is never wrong!
  44. At a Pot-Luck, always take a serving of the untouched offering. You aren’t required to eat it.
  45. Offer your old couch to a college student, your extra dishes to a person leaving a relationship, your old towels to an animal shelter. If you can’t find a recipient, donate to an organization that funds their charity through resale of used items.
  46. Stop and look, watch kids play at a park or pool. When you are shopping, look at the babies and kids. When you’re in a restaurant observe the awkward couple on their first date and the older couple who assist each other with reading the menu or cutting food. Observing strangers in their natural habitat is more entertaining than anything on TV.
  47. Many small and anonymous gestures have a greater impact than a single grand gesture broadcast to the world.
  48. If you’re ever tempted to post a mysterious comment on social media like “Here we go again!’ in hopes of having a bunch of “What happened?” responses…just don’t!
  49. It’s never wrong to defend your opinion. It’s never necessary to apologize for it. Extend that same courtesy to others.
  50. If you are ever given the opportunity to prepare a eulogy, here are some guidelines: Share insights regarding the character of the deceased and anecdotes relatable to those in attendance. Seek out feedback from others close to the departed for recognition of aspects of their character that you may not have personally experienced. Include acknowledgement of meaningful relationships (work, church, organizations, family, friends and neighbors) sharing what they meant to them and acknowledging those in attendance.  One should walk away having gleaned additional insights to the life of the departed. A eulogy is intended to be a time of inclusiveness, a tapestry woven of all of the various threads from a person’s life.
  51. Laughter is like sneezing to me; sometimes it comes out of nowhere, arises at inopportune times such as a wedding, funeral or during an important speech. It feels pretty good, is only worse if you fight it, can be a hazard when driving and might make you pee!
  52. Share what you have with others and happily accept the generosity of others. An umbrella from a parking lot to a store offered by a stranger costs nothing but is valuable.
  53. Age and maturity are not the same thing and people only have control over one of one of them. My kids were likely born more mature than I’ll ever be, perhaps we don’t have control over either of them.
  54. Use what you have to inspire others, whether you write, build, sew, sing, act or pray, know you are a pebble being tossed into the clear surface of a lake. Those ripples are going somewhere.
  55. Don’t rely on your government to take care of you. Don’t expect teachers to provide children with values. Don’t give your responsibilities over to organizations or others. Learn self-reliance and choose to contribute to the good of your household and community locally and at large. Appreciate and support those in professions that help others; educators, caretakers, the military, police, fire and first responders but don’t live under the assumption that they are able to meet your needs in all situations.
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Looking Back for Answers in Moving Forward Regarding Youth Violence

It’s been over four years since I originally posted my musings on bullying and what I believe has changed in youth behavior in a generation.  https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/bullying-has-not-changed-how-we-react-has

The situation around how our youth treat one and other has not improved since my original publishing. While I had received many comments regarding that posting, the one that sticks out came from a childhood friend who was raised in a large family. Her comment was simply “Playground justice went a long way”.  Meaning that often during our own childhoods kids worked things out on their own, developing skills in the process. I think about that a lot as the news continues to provide us with heartbreaking tragedies of youth who never developed the basic coping skills necessary to deal with frustration, anger or conflict and ultimately leap to “elimination of those causing me pain” as a solution to their problems.

While finger-pointing and attempts at quick fixes make people feel in control at the moment, resolving this plight and reducing the killing of our kids at the hands of their peers needs some reflection on what exactly are the factors creating this and why now? While I am not an expert, I am an observer and by nature am quizzical in a way that makes me ask questions that make others uncomfortable or formulate opinions that are outside the popular mainstream conventions on a current event. I have had many opportunities to read articles and see news stories that share the same mantra of “guns are bad” and the naïve belief that criminals will be moved by gun laws. Take a look at the statistics of where these blood baths occur, you’ll note the highest frequency is in “Gun Free Zones”. We need to do better.

What has changed is the dismantling of a mental health system that once separated the severely antisocial from society and the elimination of such institutions allows these troubled and struggling individuals the freedom to live among us. That freedom has resulted in mayhem. We have also become more reliant on pharmaceutical companies for “solutions” to the problems of our children. In 1983 after years of drugs being marketed primarily to doctors, the United States became one of only two countries in the world to begin marketing prescription medications directly to consumers via television commercials. While it is well documented that many of our nation’s tragedies have come at the hands of those who have been medicated or recently stopped medications, there seems to be no public outcry against pharmaceutical companies, no demand for accountability for what problems their products may be causing. One only needs to listen closely to the fast paced disclaimers during drug commercials to understand where some of the problems we currently are facing are coming from. Is it acceptable to endorse a product whose possible side effects include any of the following “Hostility, Agitation, Irritability, Frustration, Depressed Mood”? Oh and by all means expect a person to “call their doctor” if they experience “Acting aggressive, being angry or violent or acting on dangerous impulses”. The big one that people seem to have become numb to is “suicidal thought”.  Having never gone to medical school I am uncertain how close “suicidal” thought and “homicidal” thought are to each other in the brain but it seems likely to me that they are in fact close and this might explain why so many who commit large-scale homicides ultimately plan to either be killed or take their own lives at the end of their massacre.

Why are there no marches against big pharma and nobody looking at the role their money plays in current politics? We have made youth reliant on medications because of an expectation that they either at one extreme end of the spectrum focus and overachieve or minimally fall in line and quell any behavior that makes them remotely different than the classmate seated beside them. Is it easier to parent or teach “Stepford children”? My guess is absolutely, at least until one of them has an impulse or “side effect” from their medication. It’s impossible to know how many people have committed suicide out of fear of their own drug-induced homicidal feelings, a self-inflicted “mercy killing” so to speak that saves others. Perhaps a truth in marketing demand should make drug companies add “homicidal tendencies” to the laundry list of antisocial behaviors associated with their products.

While the pharmaceutical companies seem to be getting a pass, people want to blame the perpetrators weapons of choice as the evil culprit. Though facts tell us that fewer homes have firearms percentage-wise than at anytime in our nation’s history and safety measures are in place in greater measure than ever before, it is the gun that has become the rallying point and with it the NRA as the villain. First, let me say that I am not an NRA member, nor have I ever been but I am fascinated by the desire of a segment of the population to demonize them for their support of the Constitution. When pressed about the NRA, ironically many of the people who oppose them don’t know much about them and are simply parroting others.  They are not familiar with:

  • Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  • Always keep finger off trigger until ready to shoot.
  • Always keep gun unloaded until ready to use.

Additionally the NRA  are proponents of proper cleaning and maintenance of firearms and security and storage of guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons. They provide more youth education on firearms safety than any other organization I am aware of. They are basically like the AAA is for car owners, even those who are not members can benefit from their efforts. Just because someone is a proponent of public transportation is no reason to be hating on AAA. That’s the best analogy I have for those who are anti-gun and think the NRA wields all sorts of power. I was shocked but not surprised to hear the Minneapolis Mayor a couple of weeks back during a school walkout exclaim “These kids are the NRAs worst nightmare.” Sorry dude but an antisocial youth shooting his classmates is on the NRAs list of worst nightmares.

Clearly, complicated problems require multifaceted solutions but those efforts should at least be focused in the right direction. Tragic and senseless violence is unfortunately the catalyst for youth involvement for this generation. Drunk driving became the rallying point during my college years and understanding that individual choices make a difference and starting with youth by developing parent/teen contracts for “no questions asked” pick-up from parties evolved to “Sober-sis” and “Sober-bro” programs in Greek life on college campuses. Public transportation in some areas offer free rides on days like New Years Eve and Saint Patrick’s day. While drunk driving still exists, it’s evident that many lives have been saved through awareness programs and trying to eliminate a behavior. Note the solution to drunk driving was not a call for prohibition or a demonization of car manufacturers.

With bullying, shootings and even bombings, it’s the behavior of people that needs to be addressed, not limiting the rights of others who don’t have that behavioral affliction. I’ve shared before in other settings that there were numerous guns in lockers (if you biked) and cars (if you drove) at my husband’s high school, as many hunted after school. My husband even built a firearm from a kit in one of his shop classes. There was no panic, no expulsion, no lock-down. Just like every generation before his going through puberty, there were kids who didn’t get along. Aggressions were taken out in either athletics or fist fights and despite access to guns, bats, knives and other weapons, that simply was not how things were handled. Something changed and it certainly wasn’t accessibility to weapons.

Clearly I don’t have all the answers. Would people be willing to allow their kids to learn about disappointment and how to process it “the old fashioned way” by keeping score in youth sports and only rewarding the winners? Are parents willing to step back and let their child try to resolve a conflict on their own as a way to develop skills they will need in adulthood? Are we as a society willing to accept that not all kids need to act the same or achieve the same and foster an environment where a young un-medicated person who may exhibit more energy than the kid next to him is not considered a burden or disruption but simply a kid?

Why are people so resistant to accept education as part of the solution to guns? As a protected right of our citizens, it seems that it would be wiser to have comprehensive education regarding firearms. Just like in high school after “Foods” class nobody was forced to wield a spatula but at least they knew the basics around a kitchen. Many have backwards ideas that guns are not to be seen or talked about, it’s simply a forbidden topic where “that’s not for you” is what the curious are told. We know that works so well with sex, just tell youth that is not for them, don’t provide any basic information, cross your fingers and that usually turns out well. That’s sarcasm folks.  We teach our kids about nutrition, we teach them about sex, we have them take lessens when learning to drive because it’s an enormous responsibility and impacts others around them. There is greater fear in the unknown than there ever is in providing information and showing a person the proper way to use a tool.

Finally, I will acknowledge that I grew up in a home where guns were present. I was taught gun safety and use by my father and as a result had a respect for their use and capability. While many of my friends are anti-gun, an equal number of my friends are gun owners and not one of them has ever unlawfully used it to take the life of another. Taking away their firearms would save no lives and  laws already exist against the acts that currently fill our newsfeeds.

 

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