Work? What work?

A day at the office…

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Photo from here

No, no…I’m joking, of course! But I could not resist this image!
Happy Friday, and don’t let the office follow you home!

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Alaskan Afternoon

Monday was a postcard day here. After a cool and gloomy weekend, Monday was bright, and even better, warm!

I was so energized when I got home from work, I:

washed my car
trimmed my hedge and cleaned up the clippings
planted two tomato plants
harvested my rhubarb
did laundry
tidied the house
wrote a blog post
caught up on email
placed an order on line

Why can’t I do that every afternoon? I usually need morning energy to be that productive, but this was after work. Must have been the extra Vitamin D!

Vitamin D

photo from here

How do you work?

“When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.”

“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I’m leaving the position I’ve had the past 2 1/2 years for another job within the hospital. It’s bittersweet for me, because although I think this is the right move for me, given our plans to sell the house and eventually move away from Ketchikan, the reality is that hasn’t happened yet. I am leaving a great group of people who have become friends as well as co-workers, and I’ll miss them. But this move takes pressure off filling my position at short notice. The right person came along and we all agreed this was the thing to do.

It has made me think a bit about my work life. I’ve been fortunate to have a partner who does the heavy lifting when it comes to income. I’ve worked to pay for some extras, to cover kid camps and family gifts, the niceties of life. Oh, I pay for groceries and I cover car payments, but Rob has paid the big bills. So although I’ve worked very steadily, my positions have been job oriented rather than career focused. But that has also allowed me to be in some unique and enjoyable roles through my work life. I’ve done event planning for the Chamber of Commerce in Midland, MI; worked for a decade for a small map company in Evergreen, CO, that was eventually bought by National Geographic; spent the past five years here in Alaska in the field of healthcare administration, learning the world of hospitals, physicians, meetings, acronyms like alphabet soup; spent some time substitute teaching from kindergarten to high school; and even had a role in HR in one of my earlier jobs. I’ve had variety and I’ve always landed among good people that allowed me to try, to experiment, and to (mostly) succeed. Not bad for a liberal arts degree from long ago!

I like the quotes above because I think they speak to the fundamentals that make for a successful work life. The first one is pretty clear: get the job done. Alright, I’ll admit that sometimes laughter erupts during a meeting at work. That’s ok, even good. But the focus is on the job. Get work done at work and play time will take care of itself.

The second quote is really foundational to the way I’ve moved through my various job scenarios. Of course this philosophy only goes so far…you can’t bluff your way into doing surgery, or flying a plane, or many other things. But if you have basic skills and a can-do spirit, many doors will open to you. I’ve been so fortunate to work in environments that have stretched me, given me need and incentive to learn new software, new tools, new words, to reach beyond the knowledge I brought with me to the position of the moment. Each job I’ve had has given me unique perspective and abilities that I’ve then been able to use in later settings. Nothing is lost along the way if you make the most of the opportunities as they present themselves.

And in proper order, the best is the last: getting along with people is THE key to everything: personal life, work life, social life…each world is a part of our larger universe, and each world is filled with people. And some will make you laugh and just be glad you’re living. Others will make you crazy. Your job is to learn to navigate and to work with whoever is in your path. That’s what ultimately gives success. Success is measured in financial gain, but more importantly, it is measured in ways that can’t be measured. It’s the human touch, the encouragement you give, the smile you share.

If you work full time, you spend a lot of your life and your energy in that setting. Here’s hoping that you’ve found your own secret to success, and that you have a work philosophy that works for you.

Who knows what’s next for me? I’ll be here for a while yet, waiting on the sale of the house. But when I move on, I’ll take the skills I acquired here and the experience, add it to the rest of the knowledge I’ve accumulated, and be off to see what new life adventure is waiting for me. Chances are, I won’t be doing anything that requires a lot of math or conflict management. But whatever I’m doing, I expect to enjoy it, broaden myself a bit, and keep my people skills fresh.

Here comes the bride!

The Fairytale

It’s summer, the bridal season: the most popular time of year for weddings. I was looking through a Bride magazine a few days ago, waiting in the check-out line in the grocery, and a beautiful dress caught my eye. No, I’m not in the market for a wedding dress. I got married almost 30 years ago. My daughter got married five years ago, and she had a beautiful gown. She doesn’t need another. Hopefully the marriage she’s in will last her.

But though I’m not shopping for a dress, I couldn’t resist looking closer at the classic and elegant fairytale image on the magazine rack. And why is that? Does the dress make the event? Is it really the show-stopper? Yes. We all want the fairytale, and the dress, the big wedding, the traditions, the special touches all combine to convince us: this will last. This is true love.

I’ve had a plethora of relationship issues swirling about me in the past few months. Multiple couples in my life, at various ages and stages of relationships, are in trouble. I don’t want to oversimplify, and there’s no one fix for all. But as I was venting about one of these situations last weekend with Rob, he suddenly smiled and said that it would be more appropriate if couples got married in construction work clothes rather than fancy dress; more true to life if the bride and groom carried tools to symbolize the never-ceasing work required to build a marriage, rather than the classic bouquet and boutonniere.

I had to smile at the thought too. Imagine, instead of the fairytale scene of an outdoor wedding on a June day, or the symbolism of ancient traditions in a church, imagine you attended a wedding all dressed up in your finest Saturday paint clothes, or the outfit you choose for yard work? What if you and the others who attend the wedding to show support and love for the couple came armed with all sorts of items to help with the daily chores of life and marriage? Cleaning supplies, budget programs, self-help books, counseling resources, babysitters? What if each couple standing up to share their vows faced a sea of people visibly committed to supporting the marriage in good times and bad, with practical, emotional, spiritual and physical assistance?

Well, it would be symbolic, that’s for sure. I understand that in fact, many couples do receive support from family and friends, and many enter marriage at an older age and with more life experience under their belts. I know that wearing one costume or another doesn’t guarantee the degree of sincerity or the ability to stick with a hard situation, through difficult times. But I think that it might make a striking impression on everyone involved if there was a visual demonstration of the work a couple commits to with their exchange of vows.

I thought about the reality of that scene for a few moments…no, it would never fly. Most brides, or mothers of brides, want the photos, the memories, the big event. And I understand that. That’s what I had, what I wanted. So I came up with a compromise concept.

Here’s my proposal: Just like the work of preparing for a party comes before the actual party, so the symbolic work of getting married should come before the celebration of getting married. The wedding would be a two-part event: the couple invites guests to join them for the ceremony and the dress code is work clothes, the grubbier, the better. Each guest is invited to bring something to symbolize a part of marriage and family. The couple shares their vows, and then there is a short break for guests and the bridal party to move on to the second stage of the wedding: the fairy tale. This re-staging of the marriage vows, complete with bridal pomp and circumstance, is the celebration and the photo-op that is the wedding portrait.

Yes, a bit cumbersome to go through a double event to commemorate a marriage. But after all, if it’s really supposed to last a lifetime, surely an extra hour or two is worth it? And what better way to impress upon bride and groom, as well as family and friends, that the foundation of marriage takes work and effort, from the very beginning? The fairytale is important too, because it symbolizes the part we all hope for: the happily-ever-after, the beautiful bride, the handsome groom, the perfect scene.

I don’t mean to imply that anyone going through relationship difficulties hasn’t tried hard enough or worked at making things work. I know a lot of people do their very best, but that doesn’t always equal happiness or the ability to last. No relationship is fail-proof. I’ve had experience of that myself: my relationship has had it’s ups and downs, some of them severe. I know a bit about difficulties, and about overcoming.

Well, this probably won’t be the new cutting edge in weddings…too involved. But maybe the next time you’re invited to a wedding, along with the traditional gift of china or crystal, linens or kitchen appliance, you can add a practical tool or two to send the message: it’s work. It’s hard work. But don’t be afraid of it. Like most things that require hard work, making a marriage out of a wedding takes energy, creativity, passion, determination, selfless giving, and a lot of luck. But the result will be worth it. So worth it.

Photo from here

First days of summer

It’s almost July, and I still hear the heat kick on some nights. I still wear a light sweater or windbreaker jacket every morning. But real summer heat is on the horizon. The summer season here is July and August. If we’re really lucky it might stretch into September.

This is the brief season when I wear summer sandals, strappy little heels, tank tops, sleeveless dresses, when my hairstyle becomes a ponytail and my house heats up with the afternoon sun. This is the time of year when I remember that my car has air conditioning, and I wish my house did. This is when I make up reasons to go to Wal-Mart to enjoy the cool indoor climate. This is the full-price season for cruises in Alaska, because you’re more likely to have a postcard day for your stay in port than a rainy day.

I think about summer traditions in other places I’ve lived: Rockies baseball games, summer gardening season when the earth produces home grown tomatoes that are warm from the sun when you pick them; farmers’ markets; rambling drives “in the country” just because; kids playing in the sprinkler, and trips to summer camp. I think about road trips and vacations to the beach.

Hhmmm. Alaska is more about coastline than beach, although there are a few beachy areas here in Ketchikan, and you can get in the water…probably not for too long. But summer fishing is always popular, and there are great hikes around Ketchikan. You can camp in backcountry Forest Service cabins, and if you’re lucky you might see black bear. Summer is the season when it rains less, and people whose homes are on a rain collection system for water may have to have their tanks filled by truck. Seems hard to believe, but you can actually run out of water here, in the rain forest.

Summer is the season the ferries are full, and if you plan to take a vehicle on a ferry, and haven’t reserved space for your car, it’s probably already too late. Walk-on passengers usually don’t have space issues, but vehicles are another matter in summertime.

Summer is about the commercial fishing industry, and the addition of crews who come up to man the boats and to work in the processing plants. (Workers who clean the fish and remove the un-edible parts work on the “slime line” and all wear the iconic footwear of Southeast Alaska, Extra-Tuff boots.)

Summer is about tourists. And in Ketchikan that means the jewelry stores open downtown…don’t ask my why cruises and jewelry stores are such a popular combination. It means the return of summer workers to support the tourism industry, the influx of summer construction crews, road crews, shipyard crews. Even the Forest Service brings in summer workers. That’s when they are busy out in the field monitoring wildlife and forest and water conditions. Alaska Airlines adds flights to the daily schedule. Even the hospital sees an uptick in volume (never thought about it, but quite regularly, cruise passengers who come through are admitted for all sorts of illnesses that occur after boarding, and Ketchikan is the first port on the way up the Inside Passage).

Summer is the season you’re more likely to have visitors. It’s the time for town activities like the Fourth of July parade, the Blueberry Festival, the Salmon and Halibut Fishing Derbies. Summer brings the looong days and short nights. On Wednesday evenings sailboats dot the waters I see from my windows.

There’s a quote I like from Henry James:

Summer afternoon – Summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language.

We’re not quite there yet, but soon…soon, the magic of the summer will be here again.

photo from here

What would you do in six months?

My husband was reading a book recently that referenced a woman who routinely considers what she would do if she only had six months left to live. Of course, if you absolutely knew you only had six months, there would be some things that would be doable that you would never actually do, outside of a mental exercise. Unless I knew, I wouldn’t quit work. I wouldn’t use all my savings, either on travel or kids or good causes. I wouldn’t drop my health insurance, or skip making my next dental cleaning appointment.

But what would I do if I knew? I’m not sure I can define a timeline…how do you determine how much time out of a six month window is enough? Enough time with your spouse, your children, your grandchild, your family? How much time would I want for myself? I think there are a few places in the world I would want to see with Rob at my side. There are some friends I would want to connect with, in person. I would want to be deliberate and intentional in my choices, in how I spent my time.

Would it be possible to use each moment wisely? And what would I want to leave as a legacy? I want my children to know I am a woman of faith: faith in God, faith in them, faith in life. Life isn’t always fair, pretty, or happy. But it is wonderful, full of surprises. I’ve learned not to write the end of the story before its time, because the ending I think I see is probably not the end that will ultimately be. And so I’ve learned that it is worthwhile to watch and to wait.

There’s a quote I like from Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, a movie about a dysfunctional family and a daughter coming to terms with the impact of the dysfunction in her life. In one scene she is with her dad, and she asks him, “Daddy, did you get loved enough?” And I think that’s the question I would ask the people I love. I know how I feel about each one. But I would want to be sure that each one knew, from me, in my words, how I love them.

This isn’t really a morbid thing to do. I actually found it enjoyable to think about what is most important to me; about who is most important.

I’m not experiencing end-of-life premonitions, nor do I expect to lose my house to a fire, if you read my previous post. I’m really in a good place. But I am 50, and several people have mentioned to me that this was a year in their lives of introspection, contemplation, and re-discovery. I don’t think I’m naval-gazing…I like to think I’m cleaning out and re-setting myself. It’s good to evaluate and get re-acquainted after years of “keeping milk in the house.”

So, if you’re up for some introspection, right after you finish contemplating what you would save if your house was on fire (see yesterday’s post), give some thought to what you would do in your last six months. Or play with the formula…give yourself a year, shorten the time frame…it can be your exercise to design as you choose. I think it’s worthwhile to consider. Just don’t get carried away and turn in your resignation. Chances are you’ll be around far beyond the time you allot yourself!

What would I take?

I’m sometimes inspired by other blog authors. It’s amazing what a variety of topics people blog about, some of a serious nature, some funny. There are how-to blogs, travel and cooking blogs; parenting and relationship blogs. Some are written as essays. Others have a kind of gritty reality that can be a little unnerving if the subject matter is also gritty.

Now and then I run across a reference to a website that I have to check out for myself. I recently found a website, http://theburninghouse.com/ that poses the challenge to readers: if your house is on fire, what would you save? After you sort that out in your mind, you gather the items and make a photo and submit, along with your list, to the site.

I scanned a few of the entries. As you might expect, the items in some lists seemed randomly chosen. In others, there were the more the practical and sentimental objects most people would select. The photos are interesting. Do you think you could put into one photo the MOST important things (not including people or pets, this is about STUFF) in your home?

I challenged myself to work through this exercise. Not only would it be useful, just in case my house should be on fire and I happen to be around to secure my items to save; but also, thinking it out would help me to assign priority and value. Surely that would be worthwhile.

Turns out, not too much made my list of the essentials. I would grab my purse (has all my cards, id, planner, phone); my iPad; some favorite portraits of my children and family; my jewelry; my recipe collection that has the handwritten and tried and true treasures I’ve accumulated over my adult lifetime; my Bible I’ve had since high school; important documents; a few favorite old books; and a handful of items that I have sentimental attachment to…a few things from family, and from my kids’ childhood. That’s it. The furniture I love, the decorative items, clothing, framed art, kitchen stuff, china, knick-knacks…it’s all good, all meaningful to me. But would I save it from a burning house? No.

So what is really important? Mostly, I would save the things that represent the people that are important in my life: my husband, my children, my family. The portraits and few items that I would save for sentimental reasons are important because I can’t replace them…portraits of my children from years ago, or my wedding, or of family that is no longer here. The books are writings that have been old friends to me for many years, that have taught me and sustained me. The jewelry that I own is not so much valuable as it is meaningful: each piece was given to me by my husband or my parents, or my children. The recipes are full of memories of people who have shared with me, and who have had a place in my life.

Now, to collect everything and make a photo…what would you save? I challenge you to think it through. Hopefully no one has to find out the hard way if this is truly useful…I certainly don’t need a house on fire to help me know what’s important. But it gives context to the question, and gives me insight to myself as I walk through the house and craft my answer.

My Dad

A friend was saying yesterday that she had to get out and buy a Father’s Day gift to get in the mail. I don’t have that task; my dad died in 2008.

If I was sending a gift to him, I would choose music. He loved music and shared his love of many types of music with his family. As a small child I remember him bringing reel to reel tapes home. Many nights I would fall asleep hearing music playing in the house. We listened to folk, learning the songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Seekers; The Brothers Four; The Kingston Trio. We learned the words and tunes of movie musicals: My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl. He loved bluegrass and country music. I grew up on Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Charley Pride, Marty Robbins. He introduced me to Ricky Skaggs and the music of Alison Krauss.

Car trips always included favorite music, and many songs are ingrained in my brain from listening to the same tapes over and over again. It didn’t matter if the music was cutting edge or not. It was family music, part of the personal library of favorites that were always popular, whether new or something from my dad’s youth.

Over the years, music was my most frequent gift to him, because I knew it would never be a wrong choice. Once, when he and my mom visited us in Colorado, I got tickets to an Alison Krauss concert at Red Rocks, the amazing outdoor amphitheater at the edge of the front range foothills. We enjoyed a beautiful evening under the stars, listening to wonderful performers share their art. It’s something I’m glad I did with him, for him.

I saw my dad connect with others through music. Besides our immediate family, he and his youngest brother enjoyed a lot of the same artists, and I heard many conversations between them about favorite tunes. He also shared personal favorites with friends. It was a bonding tool for him, but one that he used out of pure pleasure, not for any other type of gain.

I love music too, and although I’m not always up to date, when I find something new, I want to share it. I mention a song or artist to my husband, to my kids, put something on my blog, find the song on Pandora. But there is a part of me that always wants to call up my dad, to say, I found something beautiful, you have to hear it. I find myself wishing I could share with him, my first music buddy. Sometimes, even yet, I can’t believe that it’s not possible to do that.

My dad shared many things with many people: his faith, his love of beauty, his love of flowers; his interest in history and national parks. If I had to say that any one thing defined him, I would say it was his faith. But a close second would be his life-long love of music, and that was a gift I could sometimes give back to him.

Thank you, Daddy, for giving to me. Thank you for creating the desire to give back, to share.

Happy Father’s Day, 2011.

J.C. Choate, 1932 ~ 2008

A position of strength

There are some people in my life who are struggling, who are hurting. This song is about someone who has survived loss and found a position of strength. This isn’t my usual style, although it is beautiful. But sometimes life makes us face gritty reality. Blessings to those who need it; may you find your way, your own position of strength.

Food must-haves

The Market

Grocery time again…how does it come around so often? I make my list, because I never go without a list – that’s fatal – a sure way to come out with a cart full of essentials that have nothing to do with What’s For Dinner – you know – olives, and favorite teas, special cheese, fancy herbs and spices. You get home and realize: I just spent (fill in the blank) and have…nothing to eat. But I could garnish a fabulous salad bar, and I have a pantry full of exotic extras. So, everything goes on the list, even standards like milk and cream. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about shopping…if it’s on my list, it’s more likely to make it into my cart and out the door. No guarantees…oh no, the grocery cart is just like life…being on the list doesn’t mean I’ll actually pick up the item. If I’m with Rob I’m much better. If I’m shopping alone, I’m likely to be one of the multi-tasking people who is also on the phone strolling down the aisles. (I do make a point of being off the phone when I go through the check-out. I mean, there are limits!) Check out etiquette demands that the customer have the standard chit-chat that’s required for the process of spending amazing amounts in a few short minutes and leaving with checker and customer feeling like there was a fair exchange of produce for cyber money.

But the point of all this is…I suddenly noticed that so many of the things I now consider standard for my pantry/fridge were once unknown in my kitchen universe. Some of the change is due to exposure…you experience a taste and can’t get enough of it. Or you suddenly have access to an item that you haven’t been able to purchase in the past. Sometimes the adventure of trying a recipe that has an ingredient new to me is enlightenment enough, and I find that I have a new staple to stock.

Now I buy (on a regular basis):

~chopped dates – essential for making English Toffee Pudding dessert. I don’t make this often. But I might need to make it at any time. Best to be prepared; when you need this dessert, you NEED it.

~lemongrass – amazing flavor for Asian dishes, subtle but distinct.

~cilantro (love that taste and fragrance) – kicks up Mexican standards and Asian recipes, or just plain good in salads.

~fresh mozzarella – required for Caprese salad, and let me just say that I could eat this salad every day for the rest of my life; also perfect for a grown up grilled cheese (definition of grown up grilled cheese is multiple cheeses on a grilled panini that creates an ultimate ooey-gooey-eating experience when you take a bite…)

~ginger-peach tea – best flavor for unsweetened iced tea, my personal choice for beverage of the year.

~turbinado sugar – perfect for sprinkling on top of muffins or cookies to add a finishing touch before baking.

~Balsamic vinegar – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: good for salads, marinades, sweet and savory dishes.

~Dubliner cheddar cheese – so sharp it practically squeaks! Cannot. get. enough. of. this.

~egg beaters – an essential for Rob’s morning scramble.

~water crackers – perfect light pairing with sharp cheeses.

~small containers of gourmet ice cream – I love to get a BOGO or 2-for price and choose our favorite flavors. The small size is perfect for indulging without too much guilt, and this size has a significantly smaller freezer footprint than standard containers.

~edamame – I love these little beans, and they’re good for you. I think if you eat enough of these they actually erase the impact of cream addiction.

~Greek yogurt – so thick and luxurious!

~sparkling water – another thing I buy for Rob, when he’s not drinking “Hawaiian” water – water with various fruits diced up and added to give flavor without calories.

~rhubarb – best for fruit pies and crisps, and the best combination is rhubarb and orange. If you’re lucky enough to have a rhubarb plant you will never need to buy this again. You will have plenty to use in season, to freeze for out of season, and you may find yourself looking for unlocked vehicles to share your extra rhubarb bounty with fortunate strangers…yes, it grows at an amazing rate (at least in a rainforest).

~Bocca burgers – I can hear my son groaning now…he’s a meat snob and looks askance at anything vegetarian that masquerades as a burger. I don’t say that this replaces the classic grilled beef burger, but in a pinch, and especially if I’m eating dinner alone, it’s an easy and good alternative.

These are a few of my favorites at the market. Ten years from now, or possibly sooner, I’ll have a different list of kitchen standards. But at the moment, I’ll be feasting on these things. Hey, I know What’s For Dinner!