In Between

I’m in the land of in between. That is, I’ve left my last permanent home, and I’m not sure of where the next will be. That’s ok, and was part of the plan. Now that I’m here, temporarily situated in a small apartment, thinking about next consumes a lot of my time and energy. I’m working, finishing some projects that I’d begun for this small clinic, so I’m busy enough. But after hours and on weekends, the task is to focus, to research, to outline.

We’ve had a nomadic course through life, staying put in some locations for years…I think 12 years was the longest time we lived in one location. Other places were home for two, or three, or five years. We’ve roamed about the country, sampling different regions and climates, and there’s been good about most of our choices.

Now, I’m feeling the pull of family again, feeling the need for a road system, and for a choice that can serve for the years to come.

Closing in the on the year, the goal is simple: pick a ferry date for January, and a plan for driving out. We’ll keep work going in Alaska, but it’s time to invent a new formula for living. And that means a new location for the down time.

We’re looking for four seasons, a soft winter climate, something on the western side of the country. Looking for a smaller community but with access to a regional airport. We’ve considered everything from Sonoma County, CA to Lane County, OR, to Walla Walla, WA, to Grand Junction, CO…and we’re still looking, still sorting.

So, anyone have a suggestion? Where would you choose to live if you could go anywhere?

“Even the smallest actions are steps in the right direction.”    

“This is the beginning of anything you want.”

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When life knocks you flat…

It’s been a week. Short weeks always work out to be long in the end. I don’t know why or how, I only know it’s true. And this one has been no exception.

I knew it was a long shot. Usually I’m built to be positive. But this house offer…just didn’t feel right from the beginning. On Wednesday the buyers decided to walk away. It was disappointing. And it was a relief, oddly enough. I didn’t feel good about the offer, and the whole thing felt too rushed. Well, I may have time to regret that one if I sit with a house on Water Street for a long time to come. But when it’s right, it will be right…no forcing it. That’s never a good feeling.

So, in the spirit of cheering myself up and putting myself back on track I thought about the steps forward. What do I need to do to right myself? That’s the image I always see in my mind…my body upside down, somehow needing to find the way back up, back to hope, back to future.

It would be a lot easier if I wasn’t sitting surrounded by empty shelves and dreading unpacking a house I just rushed to pack.

When has my efficiency ever backfired so spectacularly?!

But there are silver linings. I got a free inspection and a free appraisal out of the process, thanks to the would-be buyers. And though the appraisal cost me the sale in the end, at least it helps to price more in line with the current market value. I tell myself things work out in the end. Isn’t that what you tell yourself when you’re disappointed?

I am disappointed, but there’s nowhere to go with that. The best cure for disappointment is action. And since I love the word “grace,” for all it’s meanings to my life, I created a little acronym to help me get going:

Grace

Happy weekend! I’ll be unpacking a bit, staging the house for future showings, and finding grace. And if you’re feeling in need of that gift, I hope you’ll find it too.

~ Sheila

 

 

 

 

Real Estate 101

This has been a week of body blows. I’m lucky to be standing upright.

After I steeled myself to accept a low ball offer on the house, lower than we paid five years ago, because I thought it was worth it to move on to the next chapter, all the pieces began to fall into place. We made it through the inspection and a couple of minor repair issues intact, and I started thinning out, boxing up, and getting excited.

I thought I was going to change paths, go to culinary school in January and take my writing focus from healthcare to something I love, and to an industry that offers endless variety and opportunity. I wanted to experience training in a professional kitchen, work in the food industry, and create legitimacy and credibility for me to transition to that world.

And then the appraisal came in low. I didn’t see that coming.

In all the real estate transactions we’ve had over the years, we never had a property that appraised lower than the agreed on purchase price. To be honest, I guess I thought it was really a formality of the process. Never occurred to me that in one fell swoop, an appraisal could knock $40,000 off the value of my home.

Five  years ago we paid $379,000, and there was never a peep of concern about the house appraising high enough to meet that price. Now when I’ve got an offer of $365,000 on the table the appraisal comes in at $340,000. How is that possible?!

I know there are all sorts of technicalities and variables that appraisers consider, and I know the appraisal has to hold up to the scrutiny of the lender’s underwriters. I understand it’s not personal, or based on subjective impressions about the property. But the thing is, the end result is personal to me. I just got knocked down by $40,000, and that’s before the realtor commission and closing fees.

It’s very personal.

The buyers came back with another offer, the exact amount of the appraisal. So now instead of a sucky $365,000, I’m looking at a horrible $340,000.

But wait, there’s more!

We met with the project consultant for our street replacement this week. The street we live on is built on top of a wooden trestle, and that structure is reaching the end of its safe life. It’s scheduled to be replaced, with the work starting next summer. This is a joint project between the city, state, and the federal government. And of course it’s all done under “eminent domain,” which means that we don’t have any choice in what happens. We take the value that is offered for the easement rights during construction, and for the damages that will occur to our property. The offer on the table is $20,000, most of which will cover the replacement costs for the garden and the planters in front of the house. And guess what? If we sell, that goes to the buyer. So we take a $40,000 hit, from the purchase price we paid to the price we’re offered, we still pay commission and our share of closing costs, and the new buyers would immediately receive $20,000 to compensate for the road project.

And…after we were told a year ago that the utility cables strung in front of our house, and actually all along the street, would be moved under the new bridge as part of the project, we’ve now learned that the move of the cables will end at our house. At. Our. House! Is this a conspiracy? I can’t believe that the view we’ve been looking forward to…ok, the view is great, but it would be much better without cables in the way…has now been cut, due to government budget constraints. But the rest of the street still gets that perk. It’s only the last few homes that will get to keep the street level utilities. What were they thinking when they made that decision?!

Our lovely view and unlovely cables

Our lovely view and unlovely cables

I think my head is going to explode.

I can’t impact the issues of the street construction. But I’m not selling like this. I’m not desperate. I don’t know what the answer is, what it could be. But it’s not going to work like this. I’m already feeling bled out. I can’t take any more.

The other fun fact is that we’ll have approximately 4-6 MONTHS that we won’t be able to drive to our house. We’ll have to park way down the street and walk in. Then we’ll have to hire our own contractor and come up with a design for replacing the structures that will be removed during the road and new sidewalk construction, so we’ll have that to sort out too.

My house is already about two-thirds packed and boxed. I’m in chaos at every level, I’ve neglected a lot of my personal priorities…blog, family, friends, changed travel plans at the last minute… in the past few weeks to make all this happen, and now it’s just a mess. I can’t accept this offer…too wrenching. But I also know that the appraisal is out there, and any other offer I get is going to face the same hurdle. It doesn’t matter what offer I have in hand with this appraisal number, and that’s impacted by recent sales in the area of homes with similar square footage and amenities.

How is it fair that my home’s value is impacted by other sales in the area? I understand there’s a process in place to protect buyers and to look at fair market value. But how is it fair that I’m losing all this equity? Where’s the fairness to me?!

I need to breathe, need to regroup, need to think. And I have to decide if I keep packing boxes or start unpacking.

I don’t have the answers today. I probably won’t have them tomorrow, or even next week. But I need to slow down, make a good decision, and then find my resolve.

And one thing I’ve learned…if I should ever have a house to sell again, I’ll pay for my own appraisal before it goes on the market so I know exactly what I have to work with. I don’t want to go through this cycle ever again. And let me be a cautionary tale to the rest of you. At least someone should benefit from this experience, and it looks like it isn’t going to be me. At least not financially.

But maybe this is giving me other skills, other strengths. I hope so. I surely need to find the silver lining, and the sooner the better.

Strength: a river cuts through rock not because of its power but its persistence.

Monster in my head

I’m fighting a battle right now, and I don’t know how it will end. It isn’t a battle for health, but it is a battle that rages within me. It’s one of heart, one of spirit.

There are choices I face, struggles I face, that need answers. And I have to do the sort…what is my true nature, and my true desire?

Am I strong, or am I weak? Am I brave, or am I scared?

Yes, I’m scared to death…but can I overcome that?

When life is changing around you, it’s easy to get a little sea-sick with the waves of uncertainty and doubt that wash over every decision. Did I set a good price for the house? What will life look like if I move away? Will I know a good decision when I meet it? I’ve sometimes thought I was getting just what I wanted, only to realize later…uh… that was a mistake.

Though I’ve loved this house, now I think it was a mistake to buy here. And yet, when we bought it, I was so sure. Funny how time has a way of changing your view. And what you want so desperately, so badly, one year…why, a few years later, I would go back and change that if I could. I would actually give a lot to do that.

But mistakes can turn out to be blessings in disguise, if you learn the lessons they teach, and I’ve learned more about life from some of the choices that I deemed “mistakes” than other decisions that looked perfect and seemed to work out just as expected.

I have to admit though…when I hear people say “trust your gut”…well, I must not have a very smart gut. Mine has misguided me on more than a few occasions.

But each time I’ve come to feel that a particular decision was a mistake…you know, the sort of “what was I thinking??!!” variety…just when I’ve reached a point of despair, or disgust, or some feeling of helplessness, suddenly, an amazing thing happens.

The light breaks through, in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Couldn’t have dreamed, or hoped.

I’m not saying I’ve always gotten the answer I wanted. I’m saying I got what I needed.

Is this God working in my life? Is this life just working itself out? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. I am a woman of faith. But I don’t see faith as a magic pass to give me all the things I ask for. Maybe it’s just more complicated than that…I tend to have a simplistic and linear view…”if this, then that.” But there’s always a longer trajectory of events at work in life, and certainly that’s the case with major decisions.

I know there’s no magic formula…and I can’t say that I trust it will always work this way. And there are sorrows in life that can’t be fixed, or reversed. But those are of a different nature anyway…my dad’s death from cancer, for instance. At some point, each of us face things that can’t be solved, or made right, ever again.

But the twists of life I’m talking about…those are not the life and death issues. Though it may feel like it at the moment, they are not of that nature. I’m talking about choices that are in our control. And in an odd way, the decisions that we control…well, don’t they haunt us more than the ones we see as fate? I can mourn the deaths of loved ones, but I couldn’t stop it, and I certainly don’t blame myself for their loss.

But when I choose a path that leads to unhappiness…how can I feel anything but responsible for my predicament?

And so I wonder, and I try to listen to my heart. I’ve given up listening to my gut, that doesn’t work for me.

But my heart….now that’s a different story.

My heart has sometimes led me to make choices that look foolish, seem unwise. But you know, when I’ve listened to my heart, I’m usually rewarded. I’ve learned that just because something seems smart, or obvious, or even right…it may be none of those things. Sometimes the road less taken really is the right one.

I’m mixing metaphors and breaking all sorts of rules of grammar…but you know what I mean. Don’t you?

So this is my monster. It looks like indecision, but that’s just the disguise. What’s underneath is the root of the thing. Fear and uncertainty, paralysis and anxiety…all facets of the monster, the thing that holds me hostage when I need to step up.

I have flashes of brilliance, confidence, even power. But why, oh why, can’t the certainty that I feel at 8:00 in the morning be with me at 3:00 in the morning when I can’t sleep and everything I was sure of a few hours earlier seems foolish, or risky, or just plain wrong?

This is another part of the cycle of life, another pattern that repeats. When you make a decision, whether you believe it is a good one, or you come to feel it was a mistake…give time a chance to work its miracle, let the story write itself. That flies in the face of my instincts. I want to take action if I’ve messed up…and shouldn’t I? Well, it depends on the situation. There are obvious mistakes that are simple, and easily fixed.

But I’m talking about the times when I’m in over my head….can’t rescue myself, can’t be my own knight in shining armor. For those, I’ve learned…sometimes it is best to stand still, and watch, and let events unfold.

If action took me to a bad place, maybe inaction will take me where I want to go. Seems so contradictory, and hard for my impatient spirit.

Await the unfolding of events, breathe. Control what you can manage, but recognize: there are always going to be forces at work in any situation other than ones immediately obvious to you. And often, you have no idea what is happening outside the realm of your own vision.

So the house? In the realtors’ hands, and beyond my control, for today. And the nexts of life? Location, and work, the big questions? Also beyond me for now. But today, I can meet my commitments, go out of my way to do the right thing, look stronger than I am. I can be patient and hold on. The monster hasn’t defeated me yet.

And it won’t. It won’t.

The Valley of Indecision

So I have an offer on the house…lower than I wanted, so I’ve countered. And now I wait to hear. The prospective buyers have until Wednesday at 5:00. I doubt it will take that long to hear the decision, but still, the wait is hard to endure. And will they counter again? I hate these games. I wish we could just sit down and talk to each other. But that’s not the way it’s done.

The hard thing is I’ve loved this house. It’s been a nest I would enjoy anywhere, but unfortunately I can’t barge it down to a new location in the lower 48. So part of the process of resetting life is making the choice to move. It’s the first step of many, and at that, my anxiety may be premature. I may just get a rejection and be back to square one.

What do homes say about us? What do they mean? I’ve been a life-long nester, and my home is my refuge in many ways. But I have to say, the older I get, the more I realize…the physical structure, and the furnishings, while they’re important, only go so far.

When you need a real refuge, you need heart, and soul, love and strength. You need character and integrity, loyalty and grace. And none of these things are dependent on the structure of a home, no matter how beautiful or how comfortable it may be.

I’ve faced some challenging moments in my life, and I’m sure there are more to come…life has a way of doing that, testing you, sending a lot of the same lessons over and over again. And each time I realize I learn something new…insights about what I really value, who I want to be in the good times, but more importantly, in the bad.

I’ve learned to feed myself the messages that I want to live, to project what I want to be until it becomes real. Some of the transformation has been slow, but it is happening. And selling a home is just another filter…another lens to look through, to see what I’m really made of.

There have been plenty of times I’ve been disappointed in myself…haven’t been strong enough, or brave enough, or creative enough. But one thing I do know: I have heart, and I don’t give up. So using the filter, the lens, of the success of selling the house, if it happens, I’m going to be thrilled, and celebrate, and find a way to make it positive.

And if it doesn’t happen this time, I’m still going to find a way to make it positive. That’s my life lesson, to take the experiences that seem like defeats and turn them into victories. And believe me, some of the defeats take a lot of work to reframe. Some of the defeats have nearly killed me. But I think most people have to absorb this teaching if they survive, and thrive, in spite of the darts of life.

Sounds pretty philosophical…maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously. But tonight, waiting on a decision that has the power to impact my life in such a big way, it doesn’t feel like I’m blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not in control of life, but I can be in control of myself. So whatever happens, I’ll find my smile, and I’ll put on my heels the next morning and go out and try again. Because anything else is the true defeat, the true loss.

The house will sell when the time is right, and I know that in my heart, even if my head has a hard time believing that.

Wish me luck!

And to my blogging friends out there…I haven’t abandoned you…just a little pre-occupied right now. But soon, I’ll be catching up, and reading about all you’ve been up to this summer.  See you soon!

My house!

~ Sheila

Hole in the soul

A few years ago I was struggling. I was going through a difficult time, feeling depressed, sad, empty, not myself at all. For a time I was miserable, but over a period of months I came to terms with some of the issues I’d been struggling with. And eventually life was better again; not perfect, but so much better.

Sometimes I remember those months, and what I learned from the experience.

Depression steals your energy. I remember feeling like I just wanted to sleep, to escape. Simple chores were overwhelming. The only thing that kept me somewhat normal was work. Work helped me put on the façade, gave me a reason to get up and get moving. Because I didn’t want to bring drama to my work place, I tried to minimize what I was going through, tried to hold myself together so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed with my co-workers.

Depression steals your appetite. At least that was what happened to me. I lost interest in cooking. I was alone a lot during those months, and it was easy to ignore meals when I wasn’t hungry, and too disinterested to cook. I lost 20 pounds in a few months. Best and worst diet experience I’ve ever had, the only “diet” that was effortless. In the past I’d put on pants or a favorite skirt and realized it was time to lose a few pounds. I’ve never before had to look through my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t fall off me.

Depression steals your interests. I would try to read to take my mind off the things that were bothering me. I couldn’t read. I would try to watch TV. I couldn’t stay engaged. I couldn’t settle myself long enough to accomplish much. I was restless and yet exhausted.

Depression steals your rest. I slept a lot when I wasn’t working. But often in the middle of the night I would wake up and my mind would race, going over and over the things that were troubling me. I was sleeping all the time, but not resting. My sleep cycle was broken by stress and worry, and somehow, the more I slept, the less I rested.

Once I was in the grocery store, walking around like a ghost, feeling the physical impact of depression. I felt like there was a hole in the middle of my body where my stomach should have been. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself with a gap between chest and hips…a hole that only allowed for the churning engine of stress that took the place of my belly…and even though I knew there was no hole, I remember thinking that the gaping emptiness seemed so real, I was surprised other shoppers weren’t staring at me, stopping to ask if I was alright. Because I had a hole in my middle. It was a surreal experience, and I wasn’t even on any medication. I was just feeling the drowning grip of sadness.

I walked around the store, filling my cart, looking normal on the outside, feeling lost and empty on the inside, and so aware of the gaping hole. As I walked around, I began to wonder who else was walking through the store with their own holes, invisible to me, but so real to them. Holes in souls.

That question took the focus off myself and allowed me to stand back and recognize that I probably pass people all the time who walk around with holes. I just don’t see what’s in front of my eyes. I try always to be kind, to be thoughtful. But even so, there are days that I’m wrapped up in my world. I pass people on automatic pilot: kind but remote, polite but disinterested, because I’m busy, and on the run, and don’t really look close enough to see the hole that’s devouring the person in front of me.

Living for a time with a hole in myself helped me realize, in a way I hadn’t before, that a lot of people walk around like that. Walking wounded. They put on the face, just like I did. They go through the motions of living, just like I did. Some get help, and some get relief from a change in the situation that’s causing the pain. That’s what happened to me. Circumstances changed, the skies cleared, my smile came back.

It wasn’t without some effort on my part. I did a lot of soul-searching, made some changes that were within my power to make.

It was a humbling experience. When you’ve always been hopeful, mostly happy, mostly sunny side up, it’s hard to recognize a self who’s drowning, who can’t snap out of it. You begin to look at people who struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness through a different lens. You find more compassion, more appreciation for the struggles that are invisible to the eye, but so real to the heart.

When I remember that time, now I can feel grateful. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me find strength I didn’t know I had. I learned the value of “wait and see.” I learned that the phrase “trust the process” isn’t just something you hear in corporate settings. I learned that life will often right itself, if you work with it.

I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking I’m invincible. I’m not, and the truth is, no one is. If there is a next time, I think I’ll manage my hole a little better. I think I’ll know to trust, I’ll find my smile a little faster, a little easier. The reward for weathering the hard times is being better prepared to face whatever comes, and knowing, knowing, that you’ll survive, and thrive, and grow above. Eventually, assuredly.

Once you’ve worked through a hole in your life, you’re never quite the same. You’re scarred, but you’re wiser.

I no longer have an engine of stress running in my stomach, or feel like there’s a hole in my body. But I can empathize with those who do. I don’t talk a lot about this experience…just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. But now and then I see an opportunity to speak up, to share, to encourage, to say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a powerful thing to look back at a challenge and know you’ve overcome. And it’s a powerful encouragement to someone else to hear a first-person story, to know someone else really gets it.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this, except that I suddenly wanted to.

I’m not sharing to get sympathy. I’m sharing to give hope.

I started my blog during those months, started it to stake a claim to the positive person I knew was somewhere inside. I was determined to find my way to that self again. And I did. I had help from a few significant people who knew what was going on, and some of the conflict in my life subsided.

After the worst of it was behind me, I noticed I was singing again. I noticed I was interested in food again. I noticed I had a renewed sense of grace, of redemption, found a new sweetness to life that stays with me. I sometimes have small setbacks, and I sometimes feel discouraged. But I’ve never gone to the depths again. I’ve learned the signs to watch for, and the steps toward healing.

I think I’m a better person than I was, in part because of what I went through. It changed me, grew me. And though the details are not important now, I can share this much: to anyone reading this who is lost and despairing, don’t give up hope.

Do something to get yourself moving, literally. Get off the couch, do the smallest thing, and let that lead you to the next thing, and the next. Action inspires hope, and hope is the lifeline to healing. Reach out; there are probably more people than you could guess who understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. And give yourself time. Time can be your ally, and in time, you can look back and see that you’ve come a long way from your lowest point.

You’ll find your smile again. You’ll hear yourself singing again. You’ll sleep through the night again. And you’ll know you’re healed.

 

Wounds

 

View from the top

The assignment for Writing 101:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

I’ve always been drawn to lights and high places. Sometimes I find a combination of the two.

When Rob and I moved to Colorado, we first lived on the Western Slope. Grand Junction, Colorado was our first real home away from home. We moved there in 1987 with our three-year and and our three-week old. Rob started residency in Family Practice at the local hospital, St. Mary’s, we bought a little starter house, and settled in. Grand Junction was good to us. He had a great training experience and we grew some good friends there. It was a beautiful western community with a perfect high desert climate and scenery to spare. The town had a small feel to it, the local peaches were legendary, and for five years we thought we had found a home forever.

But opportunities beckoned, and eventually lead us across the country, to a new home in Michigan. Midland, Michigan was another wonderful community. As the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, Midland had amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in small towns. Our kids had friends all over our neighborhood. I was an event planner for the local Chamber of Commerce, Rob had his first experience with corporate work.

But the winters there were hard, and long, and gray. And while there was a lot about Michigan that charmed us…Mackinac Island, summer cherries and fall apple orchards, Polish pierogi, the beautiful lake shores and the small, colorful towns…ultimately, we missed the Colorado sun, and the mountains, and we began to talk about next…next jobs, next home, next stop.

Once you start having those conversations, it’s only a matter of time.

We looked at a couple of practice options, but it was an easy decision to accept a job in Denver, taking us back to the mountains and the sunshine.

When you drive cross-country, heading toward the Rockies, if you approach from the east on I-70, you reach a point when you can just faintly, ever so faintly, see the outline of the peaks in the distance. That was the moment I always anticipated.

We drove it many times, and in fact, those drives had started in our childhoods, both families drawn to the Colorado mountains, though in different seasons. My parents were summer visitors, heading west on summer vacations, packing the iconic station wagon with four kids, bags, food, books, games, and more books. And music. My dad always had music with him, and by the time we were making those trips, it was cassette tapes, boxes and boxes of tapes.

Rob’s family went to Colorado to find snow, and they found skiing. In the 70s, driving out over spring break to experience winter and the mountains, they created a family tradition, returning year after year to satisfy a love of exploring, and beauty, and escape from routine.

Those trips were the beginnings of our love affair with the West, summer and winter, and the Colorado mountains.

After we got married, when Rob and I talked about where we wanted to live, the mountains of Colorado became our destination of choice. In 1995, that dream came true. We moved to the foothills of the Front Range, Genesee, nestled between Evergreen and Golden. At night we had a view of the lights of Denver to the east, and we had soaring peaks to the west. Perfect!

It was perfect, and from the day we moved to the mountains, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the views for granted, wouldn’t let it get old.

Even good things in your life become insignificant if you can’t see them anymore. 

I used to drive around, running my errands, and even after we’d lived there for years, I’d catch myself just staring at the scenery. I never got tired of it, never looked past it. Living with the views made me grateful, kept me humble, fueled my joy.

Our view to the west

Our view to the west

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

The river bank

Snow frosted

 

I’ve never been a city girl, but there is one city that completely charmed me, makes me want to know it better and better. Paris, the City of Light, is beautiful and timeless.

It’s romantic and iconic.

It seems familiar from all the movies and photos that have made it famous; but it’s unknown too..when you’re walking around, seeing the landmarks with your own eyes,  there’s a quality of déjà vu, and surreality. You can’t understand the aura from photos, or movies. You have to see it for yourself to absorb the little shops, the cafés, the traffic and the people, the Frenchness. I guess that’s true of most places…you have to experience in person. But somehow it’s more true there. There’s magic in Paris, that’s the only way to explain it.

View seat

View seat

The Paris Icon

The Paris Icon

Paris wandering

Paris wandering

Riverside in Paris, 2009

Riverside afternoon

The funny thing about that trip was how meaningful it was to both of us. We’ve done a lot of traveling together, and sometimes a place that speaks to one of us doesn’t  impact the other. But this was different. We were in sync with each other and with the city. And to this day, it is a touchstone for us, an experience that caught us by surprise, filled us with delight.

We thought we were just doing the tourist thing. Turns out, we carved out memories for life. And you never know when life is going to hand you those moments. So it’s important to pay attention.

The good stuff can only be planned so far. I’ve learned to leave room for the joy of the unplanned, the surprise of the unexpected.

At the end of our exploring, tired and footsore, we headed to our hotel in the heart of the city to recover and get ready to leave the next day. But late that night, I think it was a little before midnight, Rob insisted we go back out for a last look at the city, and the lights. I was so tired, I almost didn’t do it.

But how can you say no to Paris?

We walked a few blocks, and this was our reward:

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Paris night-light

It was worth putting on my shoes again.

I’m so glad I said yes. If I’d said no, I would have missed one of the perfect moments of my life, of our lives together. 

Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a midnight dessert at a quaint little café within sight of that stunning monument, was the perfect end to our trip, the perfect date with my best friend.

Saying yes to life has served me better than saying no.

It has caused me to take some wrong turns, true enough. But even those wrong turns have lead to good things, and make up the mosaic of life. So when I find myself hesitating, I remember the lights, and a midnight walk through Paris. And I know that I’ll choose yes, because there might be a night-light worth seeing, and I’ll miss it if I say no.

Get moving

So, I took my own advice and decided to quit wandering in the valley of technology and self-education. I’ve found a small design firm that I’ll be working with in the coming months to help me move to the next level with a business website and integrated design plan.

Aaaahhh…that’s the sound of my brain cells relaxing, thanking me, and getting ready to focus.

Actually, I think focus is one of the biggest challenges of our era. There’s so much coming at you, every waking moment. I like technology, gadgets, and all the positives.

But I finally had to admit: I’m just not able to absorb everything I need to learn, keep my current work going, keep up with my travel schedule, manage my day to day, and kid myself that I have energy left to launch a digital business. Just not possible.

I was reading a post a few days ago about outsourcing things to virtual assistants to free time for creative thinking and higher productivity. And I realized…why am I trying to learn how to set up a business website? I don’t have that expertise, and in the time it takes me to create a site, I could pay someone else to do it for me, and be working on building a client base.

I read so much about how easy it is to set up a website…well, WordPress made it easy enough to create a blog. And if I put 40 hours a week on this project, I might be able to do it for myself. But that’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen.

As I often say…I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer. But I think this will give me the boost I need to move forward. And that’s a good thing, because frankly, doing it the other way…trying to be a team of one…has been exhausting. I see so many people on line who look like they’ve created an amazing blog/business/website that’s an overnight success. Maybe that’s true for some, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe the sites I see that look like the lone entrepreneur is the only one behind the work…maybe there’s really a team effort going on. Whatever. The reality is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a way to pursue my goals. I don’t think there’s a special medal for doing it all on my own.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the things I can do…creating content and looking at ways to add value to service and product…and getting out of the way of professionals who can give me a beautifully designed site.

And yesterday I picked up some more work for the summer, so my costs for this boost will be covered.

Just seemed like a little message from the universe. :)

“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it.”   Steve Maraboli

Primary Care

Two weeks. For two weeks this month I worked in the local primary care clinic, seeing the daily parade of patients and problems: the good, the bad, the ugly.

The clinic was short-handed with some staff out for spring break, and I was able to help out at the front desk. I went through training last year to be a super-user for the clinic’s electronic record, and it helps me to stay current to go in and work in the live setting when I have opportunity. And it’s good to catch up with staff I used to see on a daily basis when I worked full-time in the admin department. Plus, the clinic is in Ketchikan, so I got to be in my own home while I fulfilled this commitment. So all good.

I’ve blogged about this before. Most of my work in the world of healthcare has been on the administrative side. I came into healthcare through the back door of grant writing and office work. I’ve expanded to policy writing, recruiting, project coordination…all tasks that are familiar and comfortable. But patients…now that’s different.

Patients are the reality check to all the work I do.

I usually work in quiet offices, with much of my day consumed with writing, or researching, or interacting with other staff: problem solving, planning, coordinating efforts, meetings, interviews. All valuable, and part of the mechanism that keeps staff in house and programs operating.

But in that world I’m shielded from the nitty, and the gritty. Two weeks of primary care changes that focus.

The other staff I worked with are great: patient, helpful, appreciative of the support I offer, even when it’s imperfectly delivered. In a busy clinic, you need all hands to juggle clinic hours (the clinic offers extended hours; some days the schedule begins at 7:00 AM, and others it ends at 7:00 PM), patient demands, and keep up with the minute-to-minute of busy days. Navigating the electronic system for patient registration,  scheduling appointments, fielding a million questions a day…ok, maybe a thousand, but it seems like more…well, I’m reminded again: I’m grateful to be healthy; humbled to recognize that my complaints of life are “first world” in nature; and I alternate between admiration of people who are cheerful and upbeat in the face of difficulty, and amazement at patients who abuse the very staff who are trying to help them.

Patients are thoughtful, kind, appreciative, attentive. Some are dainty little old ladies, or stately elderly men, in for blood pressure checks and routine appointments that make them regulars. The staff know them by heart. They’re the ones that give you a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Others are also known, but not for their good traits. They’re rude, demanding, careless, dysfunctional. They’re the ones with an attitude and a knack for saying the wrong thing. They no-show for appointments, then complain when they can’t be worked in; they “lose” prescriptions; they’re quick to criticize and expect more. You see one of those names on the schedule for the day and you hope you don’t have to encounter them. They make you glad with their absence. And yet, even as you put on the smile and ignore the attitude that’s so inappropriate, you wonder: what happened to this person to turn them into a (take your pick) bitter/manipulative/ungrateful/difficult human being?

Work in a clinic setting, and it’s inevitable: you begin to have better understanding of the issues. The headlines about healthcare and insurance and regulations have a real-life meaning that you see through forms, and requirements, and layers of bureaucracy created to manage patients, and the business of paying for care.

The patients make it real too. Some of them can barely walk. Some of them smell. Some of them are dying, slowly but surely. Some of them are living, but miserably. I see the way the staff work with the needs, the challenges, the drama. I’m impressed that these people make a life of touching, healing, processing, listening, advocating, arranging, soothing. The list could go on, and does: the work is never-ending, and the reward is more of the same.

Sometimes it’s funny. When people become patients, you can expect the unexpected, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, it’s another day, and you’ve haven’t seen anything yet.

Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Patients die, and every week there are two or three sympathy cards laid out on a back shelf, ready to mail “to the family of…”

I say it often: working in healthcare is not a job for the faint of heart.

The job of professionals is to make hard work look easy, and the team I just worked with does that on a regular basis. They find the grace to rise to the challenge every day.

I never had any aspiration to become a nurse, or a physician, or a hands-on healer of any sort. And I’ll admit I’m more than a little relieved that now I’ll go back to my role as a sometimes-recruiter, sometimes-project coordinator, juggling many balls and enjoying the variety of my world. But I have to acknowledge, a little time in the hot seat, interacting with patients is a good thing. It reminds me that there are people at the heart of the work I do from my safe and sanitized desk.

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…