First kiss of the day

When my kids were little, baby and toddler stages, I kissed them frequently. One morning, picking up Alex, I said, “First kiss of the day!” as I was getting my first soft snuggle from his baby cheek. I knew it was only the first of many kisses I would give during the day, and it became a frequent phrase in my thought. Sometimes I even voiced it out loud. Mostly, it was a way of marking a brief moment, recognizing that for that day, I had the ability to scoop up my little ones and hold them close.

But things change. I rarely get to kiss them now. Distance makes that impossible. They’re all grown up, and the time of easy, daily interaction has passed.

Not long ago, I walked by the sofa where Rob was sitting and impulsively bent down and kissed him. I thought, “First kiss of the day!” Of course, I don’t have the constant interaction with him that I had with my little ones all those years ago. Most days, we are busy with work, errands, to dos. Most days we don’t have, or take, the time to just sit with each other. But I thought, in that flash of insight, why don’t I mark the moments with him? The big ones are easy to see, and we do mark those. But the little ones, the day after day ones, those slip by so easily. Mostly because we see each other as two busy adults. We know children are growing fast, and one day won’t be within easy reach for a kiss or hug throughout the day. But adults? I think even in good marriages, we just take it for granted, too often.

So my new thing…I’m going to mark the little moments more often. I’m going to try to really see the person drinking coffee with me, running errands with me. I’m going to practice saying, once again, “First kiss of the day!”

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Full time, temporary

There are many different work styles. I only knew of a handful until the last few years. I knew people worked regular 5 day work weeks, traditional schedules that you could count on. People worked in rotating shifts, or worked out of town, doing things like flying planes or driving trucks. I knew of part time work. But living in Alaska has been an education in work style creativity.

The energy industry in Alaska seems to run in two week shifts…two on, two off, and people commute from other states, or great distances within Alaska, to accommodate this schedule. There are people who live here during the school year, then live in “America” (aka the lower 48) for summers. Some, like Rob and me, work in varying blocks of time. Full time when working, but working as temporary staff. I didn’t know, until Alaska, that many, maybe all, healthcare professionals can work this way. Physicians, nurses, lab, x-ray, allied health professionals…all can work from a few weeks to a few months, then move on to the next place. In a hospital setting, they’re called “travelers.” Travelers often rotate with a particular health care institution, cycling in and out. Even temporary faces become familiar after a while. Many other professions have a seasonal cycle here. Tourism, construction, even forest service jobs are full time and temporary, typically excluding winter months.

So what’s the benefit to working this way? The two week on, two week off workers and teachers are in their own category. These folks really are employees. They have employment with benefits and diversity of location. Those working in block time are typically contractors, and may or may not have some benefit structure in place. Rob and I do not have benefits. We pay our own health insurance, to the tune of about $1000 a month for the two of us. We make a better rate for unit of time, but there is no paid leave, no access to other employer benefits for us.

What we do get is freedom, and change of pace, scenery, and people. We are free to commit when and where we want. That doesn’t mean we don’t work, but it does mean we can decline to work if we want to be “off,” or we can choose which organization we will work for. Currently we have multiple options for work, so we have choice. Commitments are typically a week at a time, minimum, and we are able to plan weeks, even months, in advance.

What does all this mean? It means we are sometimes in Ketchikan, working in the clinic there, and at home. The rest of the time we’re working, we’re in small bush communities in SE Alaska, living in furnished apartments, not quite living out of a suitcase, but definitely not at home either.

If your family structure is flexible, if you can weather weeks when you are not working, and are thus without income; if you are not climbing a corporate ladder, or running your own business empire, you too could work like this. Maybe the question is: why would you want to?

This is our transition plan to our next stage. Not sure yet what that will look like, but in the interim, we need time to explore other geography, other ways of earning an income, and our own interests and desires. We also still need income. I describe it as being at that awkward age…too young to retire, but ready for change. Working in block time gives us ability to structure travel and time to think, which is essential when you’re planning a reconstruction of your life.

To live this way, and assuming you’re not just working for the fun of it, you’ll probably have to cut some expenses. And you have to have financial cushions. You have to think outside the box. And you have to plan. This takes a lot of planning.

At this point in my life, I’m relaxed enough to enjoy living this way. I have to be honest to say that Rob invented this lifestyle for us. I wouldn’t have done this on my own. I’m not inventive. I only go outside the box when I’m dragged out. But once I get out, I usually like it.

So, on with our year of transition. That’s what we’re calling it. It may or may not be a year by the calendar. But I can already tell: we’re definitely in transition. See you on the merry-go-round!

Rob’s philosophy

From a discussion last weekend…my philosopher at large, aka my husband, Rob…

The goal of life is hope.

The pathway to the goal is love.

The gate that obstructs the path is pride.

The key to the gate is forgiveness.

No Valentine, please

My husband is off the hook. I don’t need, expect, or want a Valentine’s Day gift. This is just my personal thing. If everyone else in the world wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day, please, enjoy. I know couples who put thought, effort, and love into the occasion, and I think that’s wonderful. For them. But not for me.

I have never been a fan. I’m not speaking about the traditions of the day for kids. The little Valentines that kids give out in school…well, I guess that still happens. Maybe not. I haven’t had an elementary school age child in my house…oh, for the past dozen years. But the small gestures of Valentine cookies, or Valentines for children to exchange…those things are fun, and are another marker of childhood.

I’m not a fan of the manufactured and obligatory gift giving that is milked to death in the name of love. Last week I had the thrill of having access to cable TV, an experience now limited to hotel stays or visits with family who still subscribe. Since we pulled the cable plug last summer, my TV exposure has been minimal, to say the least. But I digress.

All week I saw commercials for Valentine’s gifts suggesting that the perfect thing this year is a HUGE stuffed teddy bear; or footed pajamas; or edible fruit; or the ever popular trio of jewelry, flowers, and candy.

I love gifts, and I’m happy to be on the receiving end on my birthday, my anniversary, or any other day that has meaning to me, or to me and my husband. (Christmas doesn’t count in this scenario as everyone in the family gets gifts at Christmas.) In our culture, there is a tradition of giving gifts for birthdays and anniversaries, which are personal events. But I don’t like to feel that my husband and I are buying gifts for each other because of a commercial expectation that isn’t even personal. I don’t like the messages some commercials give when they show gifts being delivered in an office setting, and the lucky woman is envied for the gift she’s received. I don’t want my gift giving, or receiving, to be a competitive sport, thank you very much.

And most of all…this is specifically addressed to my husband, but anyone I know…please, please, listen carefully: do not, under any circumstance, ever give me a life size teddy bear to cuddle with. I can’t imagine what I would do with it, other than find a place that accepts new and unwanted bears for donation. If this is your idea of a great gift, you may have my bear. But this is definitely not for me. Take me to dinner, give me my favorite tea (that’s Republic of Tea Ginger Peach, in individual tea bags, if you’re interested); give me a gift card if you’re stumped. But please, don’t send giant bears my way. And the same goes for footed pajamas. Who comes up with these things?

One last word about gift giving. In my opinion, the best gifts are those given “just because.” Because someone saw something that reminded them of me. Or because I saw a need and filled it for someone else. That giving is straight from the heart, and without obligation or expectation on the part of giver, or receiver. Or one step further, in this day when most people have what they need, and even what they want, maybe the best gift, regardless of occasion, is the gift of time and presence: the gift of self.

Well, even though I don’t want a gift, I’m a sucker for Valentine’s cookies. I think I’ve previously admitted my guilty love of Lofthouse sugar cookies…you know, the ones in the grocery bakery that have garish colored icing, but are so soft and delicious? Well, that’s how I celebrate the day. Nothing like a little red and pink food coloring to make a cookie look inviting.

Boy, do I feel better. Now that I’m pretty sure no bears or pajamas are heading my way, off to find some cookies.

Mo betta with two

Rob is coming home this morning. After a week apart, my heart is singing to see him again. I tell him, “It’s mo betta with two,” a silly phrase left over from a vacation a while back.

I’m astonished to recognize, after thirty years together, that I feel stronger about him now than when we were young and “in love.” You would think we would be worn out with each other. We are in love now, but without quotation marks. We have been through nitty and gritty, through thick and thin. And truly, what relationship of any depth doesn’t weather the ups and downs? We are hardly unique.

But what I see now is that we are finally in a place to appreciate each other, to be together, without all the noise. Without the daily stress of family raising, career building, without the need to protect or reserve part of self. We are free to be ourselves, and to be together. If that sounds trite, so be it. I can’t explain it better.

These moments don’t come all at once. They build over time, and recognition is slow for me. I’ve known all this for a while. But separation makes it fresh, brings it home again. My partner is coming home. And while we are not always right for each other, we are always good for each other. We are perfect together. It’s mo betta with two.

Overbuyer or underbuyer?

I’ve had a different pace this week. After sitting in training sessions all day, by dinner, I’m done. Not much creativity left, and not much energy either. Fortunately, I brought some books with me so I could shift into a different gear and relax in the evenings.

My book strategy is two-pronged. I have downloaded digital selections, and a couple of printed books, to cover those times when I can’t have my digital source open…part of flight time, or when my battery is low. Choosing to download a book rather than buy a printed copy is somewhat random for me yet. But I think I’ll continue to find that it’s good to have multiple options.

I have about a dozen books in progress at the moment, everything from technical how-to manuals to more philosophical works, and then one that’s easy reading, on a seemingly simple subject. But I’m finding it surprisingly thought provoking. I’m reading The Happiness Project, which I’ve referenced in earlier posts. The author, Gretchen Rubin, says she was happy. But she believed she could have more happiness, and she worked through a variety of month-long experiments to test her theory that changing certain behaviors and attitudes could add up to an increase in satisfaction with life and generate more happiness for herself and those around her.

Gretchen set goals for a year long project, and each month she tackled a different aspect of living, with strategies to improve behavior, habits, and mindset. I’ve picked up some tips, and about half-way through the book, have plans for my own project. But most of my ah-ha’s have more to do with method than with concept.

One month Gretchen focused on her relationship with money, and some of her insight resonated with me. She recognized that some people are overbuyers…buying multiples of things, buying gifts to have on hand for future recipients, buying well in advance of need. Underbuyers are the opposite, of course. Underbuyers buy in small quantities, and tend to have more of a “just in time” mentality. There are pros and cons, whichever camp you find yourself sitting in.

Imagine my surprise to recognize I’m an underbuyer. Being an underbuyer is not the same thing as being frugal. It means you are comfortable having a four pack of toilet paper in the cupboard, rather than the Costco size package of toilet paper rolls. It means you buy gifts when they are due, and for a specific recipient, rather than stocking items to have on hand. It means that you buy when you need, rather than out of impulse. At least this is my definition, culled from Rubin’s discussion.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, if your buying style is creating issues…storage overflow, or running out of necessities, you might want to determine which style is more you, and then adjust choices that are tripping you up. The point is not that one style is better than the other. It is about making your life work and being more efficient in how you buy. I also think this is an area of money management that is less about how much you spend, more about how you spend. Example: you may actually spend more for less product by buying at the last minute, or in smaller quantities, rather than buying in bulk, for a better price per unit. Or you may create distress for yourself or family members by running out of some necessity before you restock. Conversely, you may get a great deal on food items at a grocery sale, but if the items go out of date before you use them, did you really save money? Or do you find yourself paying for storage space to store all the great deals you’ve picked up?

I immediately recognized overbuyers in my family. There are benefits of being an overbuyer, the most obvious one being that you don’t run out. You are your own supply closet. And overbuyers tend to have more options available at their fingertips without having to shop for specific items. I seldom have all the ingredients of a recipe on hand without planning ahead. But overbuying also feeds clutter and waste.

The important insight for me is to think about habits from multiple perspectives. This question initially seems to be about money, but it is really about management of resources: time, space, and family needs, as well as money. No part of life is one-dimensional, and this is no exception.

The other realization I had is that if you are efficiently organized, either habit can work for you. Overbuyers who efficiently use their stock of food or other supplies won’t lose money tossing out dated product, and will manage their storage space to advantage. Organized underbuyers won’t run out because they have a list of what they need to replace.

If this sounds like too much thought on a subject that should be simple, just think about the extreme consequences of these behaviors. Underbuyers tend to cut things close, to wait till the last minute. Overbuyers probably have it, but may never find it. And in the most extreme cases of overbuying, you can see seeds of OCD behaviors that lead to traps like hoarding. That’s an extreme, but a scary extreme to consider.

So, I’m going to do some thinking about how I buy, and how those choices are impacting other aspects of my life. Maybe I can find the happy middle ground, neither running out of toilet paper at an inopportune time, nor needing to build on a wing to store my bulk buys.

My father’s 80th birthday

Today my dad would have turned 80. He died four years ago on February 1, just a few days shy of his birthday.

It is hard to believe it has been four years since that day. My mom has adjusted, as much as possible. She is busy, active, energetic, continuing to pursue their life dream of mission efforts. But she doesn’t forget, of course.

How does it work that life goes on, the current carries us on? There is no choice, that’s how it works.

I think of him often, at odd moments here and there. Little things bring him to mind, and four years down the road, the sadness is mostly gone, and sweetness is in its place. The memories are good, and I smile when I’m reminded of some funny thing he said or did. Sometimes the tears still come, often when I least expect it, surprising me that emotion can bubble up, nearer the surface than I knew.

I’ve been thinking a lot about creating passion in my life. I should say, expanding passion. There are some things I am passionate about, primarily my family. I think about my dad, and how he displayed that quality in his life.

He wasn’t a flashy person, not the cool one in the crowd. But he was a man of faith, an old fashioned faith that wasn’t about fame or fortune. He was a minister, a preacher, a missionary. He had goals for sharing his faith, and he pursued them. He spent most of his life focused on sharing his faith with others, and lived many years in foreign countries to accomplish that goal. He and my mom were partners in life and in faith, and their mission was their passion.

The last couple of years of his life he was not able to travel, except to doctors’ appointments and to hospitals. His world grew smaller, at a time when mine was expanding. It was about that time that Rob and I moved to Alaska, and we traveled a lot. I always called when we traveled, checking in. I would hear his voice, “Where are you now?” A little wistful, it seemed to me. I’m sure he was thinking of past years when he was well and able to be about his life’s work. It pricked my heart to know that he would likely not make those journeys again.

This week I’m traveling again, in Anchorage for a training, and I heard a little voice in my head as I was packing. “Where are you now?” I’m right here, Daddy, thinking of you, and wishing I could sing happy birthday to you in person. But you’re where you belong, too. I know that because I also have a faith. It is a bit different from my dad’s. My faith has not prompted me to live abroad, or to choose a missionary life. But it is there, nonetheless.

Milestone birthdays are always special, celebrated with a little extra excitement. If my dad was here, we would do a big family gathering, make a special event of the day. But without him, of course that isn’t happening. Still, I like to think that he’s having his party. I like to think that he’s off on a journey, traveling like he loved to do. And because I haven’t been on that journey myself, I ask him, “Where are you now?”

Happy Birthday to my dad. Happy birthday, Daddy.

Use what you’re given

I saw this recently and liked the thought…

Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater.

If you give her sperm, she’ll give you a baby.
If you give her a house, she’ll give you a home.
If you give her groceries, she’ll give you a meal.
If you give her a smile, she’ll give you her heart.

Food for inspiration: Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

As everyone knows, you think better with food. Especially with something that is a luscious blend of comfort and decadence. Lemon cream cheese cupcakes fit that description perfectly. This is my new favorite sweet treat, not to be confused with something low calorie. If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now: you will never find a low calorie dessert on my table, unless the dessert is just fruit. My dessert philosophy is really quite simple: if I’m dieting, I don’t need dessert. If I’m eating dessert, I must not be dieting. So now you know.

The ingredients are standard pantry and fridge items, so this is a great treat to bake on a whim. That’s usually when I whip out my cupcake pan…when I just want a little something without having to run to the market.

I would eat them all, but, alas, that could be ugly, by anyone’s standards! I typically share part of the batch. Check it out for yourself, you may want to have a sweet feast. And best, this is easy, so easy!

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Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes
(I think the original recipe is from Kraft. Honor to whom honor is due.)

Ingredients:

1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.)JELL-O Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. oil
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 pkg. (16 oz.) powdered sugar

Method:

HEAT oven to 350ºF.

BEAT first 5 ingredients in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups.
BAKE 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.
BEAT cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Spread onto cupcakes.

OR: if you don’t want to make a cream cheese icing, pick up a can of cream cheese frosting at the market. I’ve made my own, which is yummy, following the recipe, and I’ve also used the prepared cream cheese frosting. Believe me, either choice will be perfect!

One last tip, shared by my daughter: these are delicious as soon as they’ve cooled enough to frost, but they take on an extra special goodness if you chill them before serving. I don’t know what it is; the cupcakes seem to be a bit denser in texture, if you like that. I do, so I typically build in enough time to chill, after frosting, and before sampling.

Enjoy!

Hide and Seek

I’m in gathering mode. I’m learning. What a challenge it is to reinvent yourself! I have a stack of books by my bed, I have more downloaded on my Kindle, and I’m finding new resources online through blogs and websites. Information overload! All this reading makes it hard to produce. One of the cardinal rules of writing is to write. Stay with it. Once again, I find that my blog has been on the back burner.

I like to think I’m a multi-tasker extraordinaire, but maybe I’m not…I tend to get a bit sidetracked by what I’m reading, get lost in the maze of discovery. I’m researching the process of writing a book here and here; reading about life mapping here and creating passion in life here; learning more about blogging and the digital world, here; and looking for mentors and events to broaden my horizon here. I’ve also picked up a couple of books that are (deceptively) simple “how tos” for increasing happiness here and getting along with others, here. More about these later.

I’m learning new programs, taking my conversion to Apple to the next level by working through the Pages and Numbers programs.

And I’m working relief for PeaceHealth clinics and taking on some project work on a contract basis for another organization. I feel a bit like I’m back in college, having a day job, and coming home to start a mental second shift. I’ve been ramping up to this for a while, but transitioning away from a full-time position in January has upped the stakes. I have a bit more freedom to concentrate on my own projects, but also more risk. I have to admit, I miss the regular check already, although I love not having to think about my leave balance when I make plans to travel.

All this makes me wonder…what’s really next? I committed to this path last summer…well, at least I committed to leaving full-time work at the new year. Hard to know where all of this will lead. I get conflicting messages. There’s the belief that if you don’t script out your life (life mapping) you’re in danger of wandering aimlessly without focus or clearly defined purpose. Some believe that your passion and your career work should be intertwined. Some believe that your passion does not necessarily reflect your skills…that your skills and your gift are not the same. I read something a few days ago that said that we don’t have to search for our passions, they find us. Just like we don’t have to work to know if we like a certain color or taste or music. We just know. That seems right, and yet, I don’t know. What I’ve learned is that the thing I’ve had the most passion for in my life, mothering, is now largely completed, at least in a day-to-day, hands on way. So while I’ll always be a mom, and I’ll continue to find joy and fulfillment in my evolving role as a mother, that is not going to be my life’s work at this stage.

Then the questions begin. I’ve always loved to bake. Maybe I have the seeds of a restaurateur in me. Or maybe I’m destined to help others find their own path, as soon as I’ve figured out the formula for myself. Or maybe I’ll find a way to become a writer and get paid for it. That’s the really sticky part. I’m looking for something I love, something I feel passion to do. And I need it to feed me…emotionally, professionally, economically. Sounds like a tall order. And yet, these stories are everywhere: people magically falling into something they love to do every day, and getting paid to do it.

Well, I’m sure this will continue to be a theme for a while. So far I have more questions than answers, and the gathering phase is only beginning. I think of all the clichés: if it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for; it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it; never, never, never, never, never give up.

So off to work, then home to do some more work. Reading. Searching. Reinventing. Really, how can we expect kids just out of high school to know what they want to be? It’s a challenge at any age, unless you happen to be one of those blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) individuals who are so defined by their particular talent that they are compelled to be a painter, musician, author. I need a new category. Guess I’ll have to invent it myself, I’m not finding my particular passion in the standard line up.