Fall, Falling, Fallen

I guess with fall comes the end of a season.  For me, this fall is the end of several seasons.  And the beginning of a new one.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe long, wet, hot, humid, heavy summer will, eventually (I hope) give way to crisp, light, breathable air, beautiful colors and a transformation of all that is green and weighty into something colorful and pretty.  Life is like that.

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My fall has been long-suffering.  It has grown and flourished and then withered and died on the vine.  Right before my very eyes.  Gone.  While it is not what I anticipated or wanted.  It is what it is.  It is dark and overgrown and tired.  Weary actually.  I look forward to the days of fall.  Perhaps my falling will be over by then.  Once you hit the ground, you can stand on your own two feet again and set out on a new path.  Two roads diverged in a wood.  I’m taking a new one.

It’s hard to see where it might go.  It’s scary to go there.  It’s exciting too!  Fall is my favorite season.  It has my favorite things and holidays all mixed together.  I love the smells of fall- the leaves, the cinnamon, the candy.  I love the crisp feel to the air.  I love football and stadium blankets.  I love hot chocolate and marshmallows.  Maybe in the fall, I will find me again.  I thought I knew who I was.  I thought I had me all figured out.  It’s spooky to wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and wonder where you went.  Maybe I will spend my winter in a cocoon.  It seems a good safe idea at the moment.   Then who knows?

After the fall comes spring.

summer 3

The Difference a Year Makes

I have been pretty much absent for the past twelve months.

Life happens like that sometimes.  One year ago, I was struggling, really, really struggling to find ONE full-time job. And I got it!

In the past year, I have published two articles and a book, changed jobs, received a promotion and enrolled in a PhD program.  I know where I’m going and I have hopes of being “settled” here for a long time.

happyIt was a long road, a winding, twisty, rugged road.  I fell.  I got the wind knocked out of me and it hurt.  I learned a lot about myself and I grew into “Me”.  I spent many evenings reflecting on where I was and where I wanted to be in five years and they were worlds apart.  SOOOO, I got up and started walking toward the sun.  I wasn’t sure where I was headed, but I knew if I stayed where I was, I was going to lose myself, and that was simply NOT acceptable.  Now that I am a bit more settled on a route to take, I hope to be back here more often.  I’ve missed you.

If I Were Still Alone. . .

It is ironic that Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop chose this as a challenge of the week.  It is exactly part of my current struggle in an ongoing saga of, “Who the hell have I become?”  I am middle age-ish and in the midst of Erikson’s Generativity vs. Stagnation stage,  I am frustrated at my lack of being “settled” somewhere- anywhere, just settled.  Ya know, pick a career and make a go of it!  Be somebody!  Excel!  Accomplish! Settle!

I am in the process of moving from three part-time jobs to ONE full-time job.  While this sounds like heaven on earth, finding the job has been nothing if not completely stressful. Like, wake up at all hours of the night and not be able to go back to sleep resulting in pretty much continual exhaustion, stressful.

Over the past three weeks I have, admittedly, entertained thoughts of, “What if it were Just Me?”, “What if I had never married and had kids?”, “How would this be different?”  The answers?  Well, I’m SO glad the Writer’s Workshop asked! 

The ten things I miss about being alone, in no particular order, are:

1.  The freedom to come and go as I choose.  Having the ability to make my own schedule was amazing and simple and wonderful.  Lonely at times, but I was a good friend to myself and I had a good time.

2.  The freedom to eat whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sometimes, given the amount of stress I have, the whole “We must eat at 5:00 thing is overwhelming indeed.

3.  The capacity to move across town or across the country if that would be best for me.  I can find jobs in my chosen field, just not in my current locale.  Major bummer.  It’s either uproot my kids and hope my husband could find work elsewhere, or suck it up and maybe change career paths- SO not my choice!  Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

4.  The ability to make all decisions based solely on what’s good for me. See above.

5.  The freedom to go home at night and sit in front of the TV and do blessedly-NOTHING, which includes thinking!  The ability to get lost in, say, Matlock where every detail is taken care of in a mere 60 minute time slot. 

6.  Expendable income.  I just want to be able to buy, say, a latte without having to scrounge change from the floorboards. 

7.  The ability to pick up and go out at a moment’s notice.  You know, when a friend calls and wants to just go downtown and hang out.

8.  The freedom to spend the amount of time I need doing research and writing.

9.  Peace and quiet.

10.  A clean house.

THOSE are the things I miss most. 

Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop

Graduation

My grandma has been in a nursing home for several years now.  The decision to move her there was difficult and painful at best.  She adjusted and we adjusted.  She made new friends and adapted and we felt like she was safe, it was good.  Life reached a new “normal” and we all went about our daily routines. 

About three weeks ago she began a decline.  She has experienced several over the past couple of years and has always bounced back or,  at least, reached a new “normal”.  She’s been a little confused, an elderly mind stuck in a relatively healthy body.   She has had numerous minor strokes over the past two decades.  This last one though, wow!  It changed things. 

The call came from her favorite nurse.  She gently, kindly explained to my mom that perhaps it is time for hospice to be called.  It became apparent that my mom, as her POA, needed to go check on her.  Now, my parents are getting older themselves, and more and more they need me.  I am a newcomer to the Sandwich Generation and not quite established in my role as such. 

 My dad is not in the best of health himself and it was decided that I would go with my mom to check on grandma.  We set out for our 7 hour drive.  I drove all but about a half hour of the trip.  Normally, mom and I would split the time between us.  It seemed odd that she really needed me to drive it all.  As I relived the events of the previous twenty-four hours, in actuality, it was my decision to make the trip in the first place.  She vacillated between going now or next weekend.  I picked now as it appeared time was of the essence.  She seemed strangely relieved that I had just taken charge of the situation.  I felt as if I had stepped into uncharted territory.  It was a new thought process and its apparent discomfort made me dismiss it from consciousness.

We arrived.  We met with hospice.  Mom signed all of the paperwork.  We met with the funeral home where grandma had already made arrangements many years ago.  We received information about the dieing process and we began the difficult task of looking death in the face, of saying good-byes and letting go.  As I sat holding my mom’s hand, she suddenly looked a little old herself; a little less certain, a little more fragile.

Grandma met us with a blank stare.  When she finally accessed her long-term memory and zeroed in on my mom we were relieved.  At least she knew who mom was!  This was progress!  She slept through a lot of the visit.  In between were words spoken sporadically as though they were just randomly picked from the air.  We tried to derive their meaning in much the same way you try to decode a toddler’s one word sentences.  It was sad, just sad, and haunting.  She seemed to be teetering on the brink of one world, all the while, gazing cautiously into the next.

We checked into a local hotel that evening.  The next day we would try again. 

To our surprise, she was more alert the following day.  She was able to use three word sentences and express some complete thoughts.  One exchange went like this:

Grandma:  You have big teeth!

Me:  Yes, I do.  Mom and dad spent a lot of money on my teeth!

Grandma:  Pretty.

Me:  I love you!

Grandma: Yes.

This went on throughout the morning with various states of awareness.  Suddenly, there was a burst of lucidity, a shot of adrenaline from who knows, or cares, where! 

Grandma:  Did you graduate?

Me:  Yes.  I finally made it!  (I actually graduated some 19 years ago, but hey).

Grandma:  I love you!

Me:  I love you too!

We continued to weave in and out of the present with brief stops at various “past’ places along the way:  an old college play, the birth of my children, my marriage, states I have lived in over the years, candy she used to keep in her dish, card games and songs, hymns actually.  We shared some chocolate and the hour got late.  It was almost dinner time and we needed to head for home- another 7 hour drive.  Grandma needed to head to the dining room- the new one they moved her to, the one where they feed you. 

Good-byes are always hard, but this one, knowing it might be the last one, was about more than I could bear.  She kept holding onto me as if she too were afraid of the finality it might hold for us both.  This fiercely independent woman now sat with a grip on me that she was unwilling to loose, much like my children did when they were preschoolers trying to “keep me” from leaving  them.  I lingered a few minutes more.  When I finally sucked up all of my remaining strength and walked out of the room I moved quickly, jaw set, eyes forward.  I found myself almost running to the door, suddenly gasping for air, clean, cold, thin air, free from the odors of old age.  As the sharp wind hit my face, I became aware of the hot, stinging tears running down my cheeks.  I had held them in with great effort, but they were suddenly too large a load to shoulder.   I walked faster and faster, leaving my mom behind in my hurry.  I made it to the car and once again, gained composure, suddenly aware that my mom was also crying and needed my comfort. 

And right then, in that moment of enveloping my mom in my own arms, in this awkward reversal of roles, with the northern Illinois wind whipping my scarf in its wake, I stepped across an invisible stage into another of life’s chapters- uncharted territory indeed.

Yes, Grandma.  I graduated.  Today.

You Never Really Own A Cat

I had the heart-wrenching experience of having to put my cat of  18 years “down” today.  I can say it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made.  She had experienced a fine life, a well-to-do life for a cat.  What more could a cat hope for?  I mean, really?  I picked her up off of the streets, brought her in and made her right at home.  Well, sort of. . .

 . . .  Actually, she showed up 18 years ago and just never left.  She sat outside my apartment 24/7 like some sort of regal guard cat.  I tried to shoo her away, tried to ignore, tried to crowd my porch with “stuff” so that there was no room for her free-loading self to lay claim (literally) to the real estate and stake out her space- all to no avail.  She picked me.  Somehow, I had fallen into her good graces, met her criteria, passed her “pet owner test”, and was chosen.  Apparently, she had squatter’s rights.  She was undeterred by the flower pots, grill, chairs, etc., strategically placed to encourage her to find another patio to claim.  She simply scooted them out of her way and lay basking in the sun all day, every day, until fall came.  When the temperature began to drop, so did her patience level, because, up to that point, she had been, for all purposes, an amazingly long-suffering animal.  However, when nights got chilly she took measures into her own paws. 

She meowed and knocked on my door at all hours of the day,and,  more annoyingly, night.  She tripped me on my way out each day and basically made a pest of herself in the most affectionate, cute, demanding, in-your-face  kind of way.  In an exasperatingly weak moment, I brought her inside, took a photo copy paper box, filled the lid with shredded newspaper and a small bag of cat litter I had stored in my trunk, (I’m from Northern Illinois.  We carry it for traction in the snow if we get stuck.)  and dared her to relieve herself anywhere but in that box.  With that, I turned off the light and went to bed. 

In the morning, there she was, sitting in front of the TV,  as if this were a normal day and she had been doing this day after day for years.  She stretched and yawned a great big, “Good morning!  Sleep well?”   In retrospect, it was at that precise moment that I was “owned”.  I inspected, and to my surprise, found no “deposits” anywhere but in the litter box I had so haphazardly fashioned the night before.  Still, I thought it was a fluke and put her back outside.  That evening, the same process, and the next and the next, and . . .  well, you know the “rest of the story”. 

So, I decided that if she were really going to be “mine”, since my neighbors, who were obviously “in” on her scheme, kept referring to her as “your” cat, well, perhaps a vet trip was in order.  I loaded her up and off we went.  When we checked in, the tech handed me some forms to fill out and asked me her name.  I froze.  “Umm, well, she doesn’t have a name.  She’s not really mine.” 

As the words left my lips, the absurdity of what I had just  blurted out, to the very confused tech hit me.   Seriously?!  Who gets healthcare for an animal that doesn’t belong to them???   “Well, I have to write something here.  What would you like to call her?” 

And,  in that instant, she became Shadow, because that’s what she was, my Shadow, Mine.   Everywhere I went, she followed. 

 And it stayed that way, for eighteen very blessed years.

Julia Child Meets Stouffer’s

My friend Christy writes at Cat Fur To Make Kitten Britches.  If you haven’t read her blog, you should check it out.  I read her blog for many reasons, not the least of which is her amazing recipe collection.  I too really like love to cook and don’t view this necessity as a chore so much as a stress reliever.  At least, not normally.  Except for this past week. 

Last week, my menu looked more like the vending machines on a college campus.  You know, the ones with the mystery sandwiches wrapped in plastic wrap and beautifully displayed for the taking.  Push the appropriate letter/number combination and they can be yours.  It has some protein or carbohydrate energy and, so what if  it’s stale?  What did you expect at $2.00?  Yeah, pretty sad.  However, on the down side of some pretty major setbacks and disappointments, the people at my house should be glad they got food at all.

So, my menu this last week? 

Monday- Tomato Pie- no nutritional value whatsoever!  Yummy, refreshing, calorie laden perfection.  It’s a Paula Deen recipe- need I say more?  Oh, and as an afterthought, I threw some ham steak in a skillet and browned it a bit so there was some protein. 

Tuesday- This was covered by my best friend!  Woohooooo!!!! Years ago, due to school/work/general chaos/exhaustion schedules, we decided that I would make dinner for both families on Monday night and she would make dinner on Tuesday night.  It is a beautiful thing.  Cooperation at it’s finest.  So, this week, the only meal that even remotely qualified as nutritionally complete would be this one.

Wednesday- dollar menu.  Enough said.

Thursday- leftovers. 

Friday- Papa Murphy’s

It’s been a lean week.  Sad,  pathetic really.

And, then, I login to see what’s going on over at Cat Fur, only to find  Strawberry-Champagne Soup with Lime Sorbet.  I am such a loser.  Wow!!!  This looked sooooooooo amazing, especially in comparison to the cold fry I was munching at the moment. Yep, just as soon as I pull myself up by my own bootstraps I am so trying this one.  It made me happy, like food does sometimes, just by being so pretty.  I love the strawberry and lime combination.  I had to chuckle though.  In the midst of my “muck” the thought that anything that required the use of an ice cream maker could be considered easy made me laugh.  Heck, this week, the mere thought of dragging the thing out made me cringe. 

About the time I was feeling a little better, along came Corn and Amaranth Griddlecakes with Spicy Black Beans which also sounds amazing!  If ONLY I knew what it was.  If only I had the energy to look it up.  It went on to give  a salad recipe for Quinoa Salad with Apples, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries and Gouda  Now, I HAVE heard of, and actually consumed Quinoa.  Mine came in the form of a stuffing for Cornish hens, which I have also cooked.  I totally agree that it would be such a good food to actually like.  However, like tofu, it has a lot of substance, a ton of protein, and, well, not so much to offer in the flavor department, which, I’m sure,  makes it a perfect match for apples and gouda. 

So, at the start of a new week, and the beginning of a new me, I really MUST find some new recipes.  Maybe I’ll post some of my own.  In any case, make sure you visit her blog and try some of hers for yourself!

Miscarriage of a Career

I was recently passed over for a job I have dreamed of having for years, in favor of a younger (and cheaper) person.

My heart is heavy and I feel old. I just knew it was mine! As I understand, there were a lot of politics at work and I am, apparently, not as connected as I thought I was.  Where is my beach when I need it? 

I was blind-sided by not only the decision of the “powers that be”, but also by my own grief. In fact, the grief was/is so strong, it is vaguely reminiscent of the miscarriages I had years ago. The pain is very real, but no one knows or understands. And so, instead of just allowing me to grieve and heal, they feel compelled to speak. And how!

In amazingly painful parallels, they speak in platitudes. Meaningless words from those employed in fields they love. So similar to the all too often heard “You can always try again.”, “It just wasn’t meant to be”, and, “God is in control”.  Only now it’s, “Well, give it a couple of years and try again.”, and, “You can always look at other companies.”  These now join the well-known:  “It just wasn’t meant to be”, and, “God is in control”. Ugh! 

Look, I’m not going to stay in the dumps forever.  Just allow me to grieve and I promise I will move on.  I always have.

When I was pregnant, I had begun to live in a future world, one where the whole process ended with a baby. I had dreams for my unborn child. I had hopes, huge hopes. I had names picked out.  Birth dates were penciled in as best any doctor could predict.  And, then, the future crumbled.  Hope died with my dreams and though the dates were erased from my calendar, they remain seared in my heart to this day.

I had dreams for my career too.

I have beautiful children now and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but I will never forget what might have been, had it not been lost.  And, I will never understand “Why?”

I don’t think I will ever be able to completely forget  “what might have been”, career-wise either. Maybe, like having children, something will work out for me down the road.  I hope, but I’m not holding my breath.  I gave up asking “Why?” a long time ago.  My heart is so heavy. 

I need to just regroup and come up with Plan B.  Forget it. 

Let it go.

Oh, well.  (sigh)

If only I had a Plan B.